Opinion |

The Case for a True Left, Minuscule, Jewish-Arab Party

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Voting at a Meretz conference, Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020.
Voting at a Meretz conference, Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This is the current face of the center-left in Israel: Only 0.7 percent of voters belonging to this camp are certain they’d vote for a Jewish-Arab party. A further 21 percent said there was a chance they would do so.

A senior member of Meretz, the party that commissioned the survey, said that “such a move has no feasibility. Any effort is pointless. The whole story has expanded to disproportionate dimensions.” The true proportion is that the left in Israel comprises all of a fraction of one percent. There are no buyers here for a truly democratic party. If Meretz, the last left-wing Zionist party, needs a survey in order to find out whether to establish an egalitarian democratic party, for some reason called in our parts Jewish-Arab, then it too is no longer a left-wing party.

Thus comes to its end, at least temporarily, the delusion that Israel has a democratic or peace camp. All we’re left with is “Just-not-Bibi” and the Balfour Street protests, which on a really good day will place Naftali Bennett in the prime minister’s office. Hoist the black flags, bring forth the model submarines, beat the drums – the revolution is coming!

There are few parties around the world that are purely or exclusively nation-based, and all of the existing ones are ultra-nationalist. In Israel, these are the only kind of parties. Democracy in Israel means a Jewish party, meant for all Jews, exclusively Jewish, in a state that is patently binational. One third of the country’s subjects have no rights at all while one fifth of its citizens are excluded from any Jewish party – this is called democracy.

In the past, a few parties featured a kaffiyeh-wearing fig leaf. Now, Meretz too removed him in the last election. The Beitar Jerusalem soccer team will not hire any Muslim player out of fear of La Familia, its far-right group of supporters. The center-left will include no Arab lawmaker out of fear of the larger “familia,” Jewish voters, who want no Arabs in their party, even when these voters are convinced they’re so enlightened. Everyone is La Familia. Only 0.7 percent, less than one neighborhood, think differently.

I was happy to see the results of this survey. It exposed the truth, unadorned. The Zionist left is a deception. It turns out that Meretz voters are also racists in disguise. They too don’t want Arabs. Israel lies between right and extreme right. Any other option has no feasibility. There is no feasibility for a democratic party in this country. That senior Meretz official said it’s a waste of time, but if that’s so, we’ll remain forever with former chiefs of staff as the only hope the left has, with a tiny political map ranging from Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu, between Bennett and Benny Gantz, with former general Yair Golan as leader of the left. You’ll need a microscope to detect any differences between them.

The move started by Zionism has succeeded more than its founders imagined. A Jewish state. A Jewish Knesset with 105 lawmakers, the other 15 sidelined. Zionism has turned Israel into what is in practice a one-party state, like China, with Zionism as the single ideology allowed. We’re all Jews, even if that’s not always accurate.

It will take years to break this ultra-nationalist pattern we imbibed with our mother’s milk, but we have to start somewhere. The beginning will be a modest one: a Jewish-Arab left-wing party, which must be headed by an Arab. This will serve as an answer to the ultra-nationalist distortion in Israel.

The Joint List is a success story, but it failed in drawing large numbers of Jewish voters. In a reality in which all the other parties take care to ensure national Jewish purity, there is a need for a leftist party led by an Arab – there is no lack of excellent candidates – voted for by Jews and Arabs.

That’s the only possible left wing in Israel today. It will be miniscule, but it will be there. It will proudly declare itself non-Zionist, and will constitute the kernel heralding the fulfilment of the dream of one democratic state, which for most Jews is perceived as a nightmare from hell, and for most Arabs as a pipe dream.

Its time will arrive one day, and it will require a democratic and secular party, leftist and egalitarian, in which national affiliation is not what defines it. This party will for the first time reflect this country’s reality: Not all of us – in fact, barely half – are Jewish, and we’ve never had a true left wing.

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