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In Israel, the Right Acts and the Left Babbles

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Construction in the settlement of Efrat.
Construction in the settlement of Efrat.Credit: Emil Salman
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Frustration and rage on the real left in Israel are building up. Two writers in Haaretz voiced this outrage: “You have not only murdered. You’ve murdered and inherited. Does anyone have any doubt that religious Zionism has inherited the country? Wherever you look today you see religious Zionism.

They’re everywhere. With skullcaps, without skullcaps, on the right, on the left, in the government and the opposition, throughout the army’s command structure, in the police, the State Prosecutor’s Office, the media. Today everyone speaks the language of religious Zionism,” Carolina Landsmann wrote, each word etched in blood from her soul.

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Three days later former Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon wrote, her anger fiercer still: “Listen you racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist animal, which is trying to drag us into a Taliban-like regime – we’re not afraid of you … Now get out of here, before we treat you the way we treated the original fascists”, referring to what would be a correct reply of the political center and left to the right.

The sanctimonious Zionist left doesn’t like this rage. It thunders in their ears – and they prefer polite quietude. But there’s so much cause for rage.

The declaration of human rights organizations as terror organizations, the decision to build thousands of housing units for settlers and the disgraceful vote in the Knesset about memorializing the Kafr Qasem massacre – these were the final three bales of straw that should have broken the camel’s back – which should by all rights have been broken long ago.

Therefore, it is impossible not to empathize with the rage of Landsmann and Galon. But it is this very rage that exposes the weakness of the left: It’s always just talking.

The right acts and the left babbles. The right settles, runs riot, burns, kills, maims and seizes land, and the left is silent, or documenting and condemning. The government takes Erdogan-like steps against human rights organizations, the Zionist left in the government is party to the crime and the real left is furious.

The religious Zionists are taking over the country, and Landsmann cries out. A witch hunt is declared on anyone who has their photo taken with an Arab – and Galon loses it. You have to respect it, but it isn’t enough.

Talking alone won’t do it anymore. Talking is appropriate for democracies, but not against violent dictatorships. It is not enough to stand up against the settlers and the army. What needed to be done against settler violence was to organize a militia to protect the Palestinian farmers and their property.

Against the nightly abductions of Palestinians from their homes by the army, there should have arisen a force to document it all, one that is larger and stronger than B’Tselem, which does everything it can but is insufficient. Imagine the soldiers invading bedrooms and nurseries with dogs every night – and determined Israelis waiting for them with cameras.

Talking didn’t bring down the first apartheid. South Africa had some exemplary Jews who moved from talk to action. It was illegal and at times brutal, but they effected the change and became revered figures.

Helen Suzman was the only member of parliament who opposed apartheid and met Nelson Mandela in his prison cell. Today there’s a boulevard named after her in Cape Town and her image has been immortalized on a stamp.

Other Jews went much further and paid a heavy price. Joe Slovo was the commander of the African National Congress’s military wing, and his wife was murdered by the regime. Denis Goldberg and Ronnie Kasrils were exiled or imprisoned. Judge Albie Sachs lost an eye and arm in a blast. They realized talk wasn’t enough. They will be remembered as freedom fighters.

Israel hasn’t had Jews who actively joined the armed Palestinian struggle and became terrorists. That’s a good thing. But you don’t have to become a terrorist to move from talk to action. The Palestinian community is helpless. Nobody is protecting it, its property and its life.

There are a few hundred Israelis who volunteer to protect them, accompany children to school, participate in freedom protests, help with the olive harvest, or document. They are amazing people, but small in numbers. Their impact is nil and the media ignores or even criminalizes them.

I too only talk. Talk and write. That’s the easiest thing to do. But nothing will change until more Israelis realize that talk alone won’t bring the change, even when Landsmann and Galon rightly explode in rage.

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