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In a Jewish State, the Zionist Left Can Offer the Arabs Nothing but Empty Words

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A demonstration against the nation-state law at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 2018.
A demonstration against the nation-state law at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 2018. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It didn’t work once again for the Zionist left. Like the song says: They promised a dove, an olive branch, they promised peace, spring and blossoms … And once again they got Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Zionist leftists tried everything. They promised peace and security, settlements and two states, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, and nothing worked. Only one choice remained, the doomsday weapon, the wildest wild card of all: to join with the Arabs. Only thus could they return to power, wrote the pundits. Why didn’t they think of that before? How good and pleasant it is when brothers sit together, center-left with “Israeli Arabs,” as they are popularly called, in denial of them being Palestinians.

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It’s good that this recognition has finally sunk in; it’s too bad that it’s hollow and hypocritical, like most ideas of the center-left. Even when the Zionist left reaches the right understanding, they aren’t ready to pay the price for it. As usual, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

A Jewish-Arab partnership as well as a Jewish state. It’s doomed to failure. Dear Zionist leftists, don’t count on the Arab vote. You’re not worthy of it.

First of all – now you come to us? After all the years of military administration and after the riots of October 2000, the discrimination, exclusion and dispossession (just go to Taibeh or Hura), suddenly you remember that we exist? Oh well, better late than never. But what exactly does the center-left have to offer the Arabs in the state of the Jews? Empty words. What equality, without which there can be no genuine partnership, can exist in a Jewish-democratic state? What brotherhood can prevail in a country whose Law of Return fundamentally discriminates against Arabs? What is there waiting for them in a country whose discourse is all Jewish and only Jewish? Where nearly all of the land is designated for Jews and many public workplaces are closed to them? And that’s before we’ve even said a word about the nation-state law.

There is only one way that Jews and Arabs can really go together: in a democratic, egalitarian state of all its citizens. Is this what anyone on the Zionist left who proposed joining together meant? If so, he cannot be a Zionist. This built-in contradiction must be exposed: Zionism and egalitarianism cannot go hand in hand.

From the depths of its failures, the center-left suddenly discovered the potential of the Arab vote. It tried the religious and sought out the Mizrahim and ultimately was stuck with the Arabs, the last bastion of non-rightist votes. But the Zionist left has nothing to offer them aside from a few budgetary crumbs. It has no intention of paying the real price that has to be paid for going together, which would spur Israel’s Arabs to vote Kahol Lavan, Labor or Meretz.

They will only do so en masse in a country that shakes off its Zionist scaffolding, which may have been necessary once, but is no longer so. They will do so in a state in which an Arab prime minister or defense minister or health minister is a matter of routine, as it should be in any multinational democracy. They will do so when the Arabic language will be the language of the country just as Hebrew is, and when they stop being called a “minority.” What minority? An equal number of Jews and Palestinians now live under Israeli control between the Jordan River and the sea. This moment of numerical equality, which many not last very long, ought to have been celebrated with a declaration of intent to establish an egalitarian democracy. Instead, nearly 5 million Palestinians live under occupation and another nearly 2 million live under the nation-state law.

This is not what the advocates of joining together mean. They just want keffiyehs at party conventions and votes at the ballot box. The right has been winning for 40 years, and the left still doesn’t get that it has nothing more to offer. For 40 years now, it has lost its way.

The solution is admittedly revolutionary and not an easy one to accept, but it is the only one: Detach the Zionist label from the leftist label and switch to what every liberal left in the world is dedicated to. Offer the obvious: Democracy for all.

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