Opinion |

Israel’s Labor Party Is Returning to Its Rightist Reflex Behavior

Not just the occupation and colonialism caused society’s drift to the right. Even during the pre-state period the real difference between the right and left was the means, not the national goals

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, October 2017.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, October 2017. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

“Quiet prevails at the edge of the Suez Canal. And the same holds for Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria and the Golan. The lines are secure, the bridges open, Jerusalem united, the settlements are being built and our diplomatic standing is strong. This is the result of level-headed, courageous and farsighted policy.”

This, a quote from an Amos Harel piece a month ago, was the text of an ad published before the election due in October 1973, the one postponed because of the Yom Kippur War. The campaign headquarters of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon could also have signed such an ad.

This was the Israeli consensus, and the Alignment – the alliance of the Labor and Mapam parties – was no less nationalist than the right and no less craved the territories captured in June 1967. This is how the left handed over the keys to Likud, and the danger of this tendency still exists today.

So in the years since the 1956 Sinai Campaign and unrelated to the Yom Kippur War, the “left” simply competed with the right over of who would be tougher on the Arabs. In 1956, David Ben-Gurion declared the third kingdom of Israel – the one from Metula to the “Gulf of Solomon” (the Straits of Tiran) – and Moshe Dayan preferred Sharm el-Sheikh over peace, a slogan Golda Meir’s government wouldn’t have disagreed with.

And what about Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres ignoring the signals from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and their part in establishing the settlement of Elon Moreh in the West Bank, which opened the path to the colonization of the occupied territories?

The big question is whether the desire for occupation and expansion was built into the Zionist movement or maybe was just a lack of understanding of the situation and an accidental exploitation of opportunities. This is a problem that requires its own discussion, but the fact is, every time Israel had an opportunity, it took advantage of it as far as it could and didn’t retreat except when heavy outside pressure was applied.

If not for the fear of British intervention, the West Bank would have been captured at the end of the War of Independence. If not for the Russian-American pressure, we wouldn’t have evacuated the territories captured in 1956. And without the Yom Kippur War and our total dependence on the United States, the Sinai wouldn’t have been evacuated and there wouldn’t be peace with Egypt.

Not just the occupation and colonialism caused society’s drift to the right. Even during the pre-state period the real difference between the right-wing Revisionists and Mapai was the means, not the national goals. As a result, an overall social ideology was never constructed outside the kibbutz movement.

Unfortunately, this is the situation today, too. When new Labor Party chief Avi Gabbay can’t admit the simple fact that there’s no way to achieve peace with the Palestinians without evacuating at least the small and isolated settlements, he’s not only giving up on presenting an alternative to the current government, he’s insulting our intelligence.

Also, concerning the protection of democracy, human rights, the Supreme Court and equality before the law, his presence isn’t really impressive. If Gabbay doesn’t have the psychological strength and intellectual courage to condemn the neofascism of the Habayit Hayehudi party, he has made himself superfluous with his own hands.

That speech by President Reuven Rivlin criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu for threatening the Supreme Court should have been heard from Gabbay a long time ago. Social issues are supposed to be his relative advantage but have almost completely disappeared. The voters aren’t stupid and they don’t respect acrobatics and tricks: Gabbay and his party don’t have many assets left except their honesty and credibility.

It’s a shame to waste the credit that has accumulated in the past few months on pursuing a fake hope of victory over Likud using the right’s own tools. This road has been tried in the past, and it should be remembered that it ended with Shimon Peres’ bankruptcies that kept on repeating.

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