Israel's Right Must Not Be Allowed to Define Patriotism

Israel’s left has got to forge its own symbols and concepts of patriotism. Otherwise it’s going to be as much use as a chocolate sundial in the Negev.

Yechiam Weitz
Yechiam Weitz
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 Israeli flag  on a hill near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, near Bethlehem.
Israeli flag on a hill near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, near Bethlehem.Credit: Reuters
Yechiam Weitz
Yechiam Weitz

MK Hilik Bar is the secretary general of the Labor Party, the main opposition group whose main goal is to bring down the Netanyahu-Lapid coalition that is bringing Israeli society to the brink of disaster. It is reasonable to assume that Bar believes, with all his heart, that the only way to solve the bitter conflict with the Palestinians is the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is in complete opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s view, and it is now clear that the latter’s “two states for two peoples” statement at Bar-Ilan University in 2009 was a lie.

Recently, Bar – who is also chairman of the Knesset lobby group for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict – sent a letter to Labour Party members of Britain’s parliament, imploring them not to support a nonbinding resolution to recognize a Palestinian state (which passed last Monday with a 274-12 majority). His reasoning: It may very well play into the hands of the Israeli right wing and encourage acts of violence.

This letter raises the question: What is patriotism? Theoretically, we can see the sending of the letter as a patriotic act – an attempt to aid the government through diplomatic measures. But that is a mistake. The British recognition of a Palestinian state, like its recognition by new Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, comes after the failed attempts by the European Union to stop the ravenous construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Bar also knows how much this construction sabotages the peace process and destroys the fabric of Israeli society. Therefore, as an Israeli patriot he must support every step that could halt it, including European declarations – since international pressure is an essential stage in the struggle to stop the settlement “enterprise.” The decision of the activist group Peace Now to issue a statement condemning new settlement construction in Givat Hamatos, East Jerusalem, during the prime minister’s visit in Washington was a patriotic act, not an irresponsible act as Netanyahu described it.

It seems Bar’s main motive for writing the letter to Labour politicians was his desire to show the government and right wingers that he is a patriot, despite his being a “leftist.” In doing so he basically accepts the right’s definition of a patriot, instead of fighting for the image and concept of the term. This feeling of inferiority in the face of concepts and symbols of the right is not new. It started back during the 1970s and ’80s, after the change that brought Menachem Begin and Likud to power. The Labor Party, headed by Shimon Peres, preferred not to pave a new and daring path, since it was scared to death by Begin’s horrible accusation: This party is not nationalist; it serves the interests of the enemy.

This dynamic was expressed in its full force in the summer of 1982, with the outbreak of the first Lebanon war. The Labor Party leaders, including Yitzhak Rabin, understood the significance of the war and – instead of objecting to it from day one – supported the actions of Begin, then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and then-IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan. During the first week of the war, the Hadash faction proposed a no-confidence motion, but all the Labor Knesset members joined the coalition and voted against the motion (all except for Yossi Sarid). This shameful behavior stemmed from their inability to build alternative national values and symbols.

Today, too, after long years in the opposition, Labor is unable to build separate “symbolic capital” that is all its own. There is a close link between this situation and Bar’s pitiful letter. A political party that does not build a unique world of values, concepts and symbols is sentenced to be the spare tire on Netanyahu’s wagon that is falling apart.

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