Opinion |

The Right Is So Strong Because the Left Is So Weak

The opposition in Israel is a pathetic and ineffectual group that believes imitating the right is the only way of returning to power

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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Protesters attending an anti-Donald Trump demonstration in Berlin, Germany, January 2017.
Protesters attending an anti Donald Trump demonstration in Berlin, Germany, January 2017. Credit: Michael Sohn/AP
zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

Following the success of the right wing in Europe and the United States since last year, there is a growing sense that the dark, ultranationalist wave now sweeping the West is unstoppable. That’s why right-wingers in Israel believe they can sleep peacefully, since they are part of a global phenomenon.

Socialism is declining, the center is crumbling and only the extreme right remains standing. It’s claimed this is because it’s close to the people and its daily concerns, and because it speaks in the name of a tribal-national authenticity that abhors universal values, humanism and human rights.

The people, we are told, do not see government as an instrument for protecting the individual, but as a mechanism for placing the individual in the service of the nation-state.

Luckily, this is nonsense. The forces currently fighting against liberal values have been an inseparable part of European civilization since the ancient Greeks. In their modern form, for the past 300 years they have been steadily and resolutely striving to undermine the political culture that took shape following three human-rights revolutions – by the English, Americans and French. However, the extent to which these forces succeed is a function of the changing social and political conditions and, especially, of the determination and courage demonstrated by those opposing them. The humanist liberalism of human rights – the only true liberalism – survives only when society is willing to defend it under any circumstances, without fear.

Benito Mussolini was invited to form a government by the conservative and liberal Italian establishment – the “center” in today’s terms – which consisted of the monarchy and church-backed bourgeoisie, when he headed a parliamentary faction of only 30 lawmakers. The descent into fascism took place under the neutral or supportive eyes of that same center. In 1928, meanwhile, the Nazi Party received less than 3 percent of the vote, but became the strongest party in Germany because of its aggressive nationalist cultural base, which it shared with the center and conservatives. Hitler rose to power due to these factors and the hatred the traditional right and center felt for the left. Thus, the fascists and Nazis built on the betrayals of the conservatives and the center, who abandoned the intellectual content of liberalism and enlightenment.

In Israel, the various extreme ultranationalists – both secular and religious – are forever ready to subjugate the nation-state to the nation’s religion, undermining the liberal order and human rights. But they would not be in power if it weren’t for the Labor Party and center’s swing rightward.

Herein lies the real weakness and uniqueness of the Israeli reality: One finds civil society organizations at the forefront of the struggle against the occupation and gradual destruction of Israel’s democracy, not the Labor Party or Yesh Atid. Both parties are desperately trying to imitate the right and ignore human rights groups, in the hope that this will enable them to replace Likud. This is the suicidal path that has been followed by Labor since 1977, marching from failure to bankruptcy at regular intervals.

Instead of attacking the right at every opportunity; instead of fighting the settlements in any way possible; instead of demonstrating and occupying the streets and squares; instead of going from house to house while mobilizing every ounce of energy for condemning the erosion of Israeli democracy – instead of that, most opposition politicians evoke only sympathy for their wretchedness. Each one individually is a good person, but together they are a pathetic bunch, sycophantic and cowardly.

This does not convince the hesitant masses there are still politicians out there who are worthy, determined and confident enough to open their ranks to new members, in order to topple this right-wing government and save Israel from colonialism and apartheid.

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