The 'New' Israeli Left Doesn't Want to Upset Anyone

The new Israeli left is the center in disguise. No wonder it calls everything to its left 'extreme.'

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square
A memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The new Israeli left eats with a knife and fork, chews with its mouth closed and doesn’t rest its elbows on the table. It also knows that one does not talk at mealtime. The new Israeli left doesn’t want to upset anyone, especially not during the siesta hours of 2 P.M. to 4 P.M.

The new Israeli left is responsible, Zionist, defense-minded and part of the Establishment. It stays silent in wartime and lets the army prevail. It will never utter a word of criticism against the Israel Defense Forces, which, as we all know, is the very best army. However, a few weeks into the war, any war, the left may waken from its slumber and say something about the need to end it. Perhaps some stage of the war was “superfluous.”

Occasionally it may dare to criticize the “timing,” a particular favorite of the new Israeli left. Perhaps it will also make some proclamation about the need to look after the relationship with the United States – the Holy of Holies. International law, the law of war, ethics and conscience are forbidden words for the new Israeli left. At most, it will say something about damage to the image of the state, about supporting peace and the two-state solution, about Oslo and Geneva.

The new Israeli left is opposed to refusing military service or orders, of course, by the left or the right – it’s impolite, in its eyes. It “undermines” the foundations of government and disturbs the public order, in which Israeli soldiers persecute Palestinians. It will take more pleasure in attacking the refuseniks than the right does; after all, it must put daylight between itself and these refuseniks.

The new Israeli left goes to demonstrations as long as the weather’s fine and, if possible, they are memorials to Yitzhak Rabin. If not for Yigal Amir, curse his name, we would have peace by now. This left misses Rabin, does it ever. Some of them were “candle children” – singing and lighting memorial candles in the square that was later renamed for the assassinated prime minister – who grew up; others were these children’s parents.

This left loves Arabs, especially if they’re named Sayed Kashua. This left also loves maqluba, a traditional Arab dish. It hates Hamas, as well as the Islamic State, and terror. And ultra-Orthodox Jews. With the settlers, it’s more complicated: It supports Tzav Pius, a nonprofit advocating dialogue and cooperation among Israelis across the Jewish religious spectrum – not with the settler hilltop youth, but with the “moderates.” The ones from the “illegal outposts” are lawbreakers, but the ones from the “settlement blocs” are okay, part of the consensus. Even the Palestinians and the Americans have agreed to let them remain in place.

This left is against boycotting Israel, of course. And against MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad). The occupation corrupts, but what can you do?

And above all, the new Israeli left despises the “extreme left,” which steals away the left from it and drives away the hordes pounding on its doors.

The new Israeli left is neither new nor left. It’s as old as the state and the settlements, some of which were its doing. It used to be called the Zionist left. If Israel’s centrists are the right in disguise, then this left is the center in disguise. No wonder it calls everything to its left the “extreme left.”

But this extreme is far from extremism. Baader Meinhof or the Red Brigades – that’s extreme left. The “extreme” left – the only left remaining in Israel – is not radical, not violent, and it is marginal, lacking in influence and excluded. The left in costume takes part in its own delegitimization party. Sometimes it even emcees it. It supports freedom of speech, but says the extreme left “goes too far.” It dares to think there’s a contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic” when it comes to defining the character of the state, and it is willing to give up on the Jewish part – imagine that. That is damaging. If only it were willing to give in a little, it could have more of an influence.

For 47 years this imaginary left has been keeping its fingers crossed for the occupation. It’s not that it supports it, heaven forbid, but haste (and extremism) is from the devil. In fact, this left perpetuates the occupation; it’s the pretty face that stands behind it.

Very soon it will win, just let it go its own way – the way that doesn’t put anyone off, that will generate mass support, on whose behalf compromise is worthwhile. Just you wait. It will be victorious any moment now, the occupation will end and peace will come.

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