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The Israeli Left Is in Government. Why Does It Not Show?

Tom Mehager
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Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz at a Knesset faction meeting in Jerusalem, last month.
Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz at a Knesset faction meeting in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Tom Mehager

The key component in Ehud Barak’s statement that we have no Palestinian peace partner wasn’t only the remark but also the then-prime minister’s position at the time. In 2000, Barak was the leader of the Israeli left, which, he said, had gone as far toward the Palestinians as possible. He maintained that peace and reconciliation between the peoples wasn’t feasible.

We’re fixated on the notion that we’re fated to rule the Palestinian people by military force because the left offered everything and the Palestinians are the ones who rejected peace. And if this is the case, we can continue the occupation, the settlements, the dispossession.

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Similarly, the “government of change” is strengthening the right’s ideological hold on Israeli society. While in the past, time after time in the opposition, the Labor and Meretz parties objected to amending the Citizenship Law, which prevents the unification of Palestinian families, they voted for this legislation in the current Knesset. A few months ago Labor and Meretz supported raising the retirement age for women, a move that significantly delays a woman’s right to a pension.

In the future, how can the left object to racist legislation or economic measures now that it has a supported policies so detrimental to large weaker groups in society? In the governing coalition, the option for a consistent, insistent left is diminishing.

One argument in favor of Naftali Bennett’s government is that the alternative, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, is worse, so we must settle for the lesser evil. This is a bad approach for two reasons.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in November. Credit: Emil Salman

First, in everything that concerns the core issues between the Israeli right and left, there is no difference between Bennett’s and Netanyahu’s governments. For example, Israel continues to violate human rights in the West Bank, to an even greater extent. More than six months since Bennett formed his government, it’s hard to think of any significant steps it has taken that reflect a left worldview.

Second, at least in one critical way, a right-wing government vying with a resolute left-wing opposition is better than having the left assimilate into a right-wing government.

The Arab Israeli community sees the forming of a Jewish consensus from Meretz to Labor and all the way to Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, a consensus in favor of deepening the occupation. In the last election the turnout among Arab Israelis dropped significantly, to below 50 percent, mainly because they realized that their political participation was ineffective.

At the same time, under the rubric of “Anyone but Bibi,” the left is forging alliances with the most racist agendas in Israeli society. This fatally damages the possibility of forming a Jewish-Arab camp for justice and reconciliation. Now it’s the Arab community’s turn to say “there is no partner.”

If Meretz and Labor are indeed committed to the left’s values, it’s time to show this in the cabinet. They must insist on retracting Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s labeling of six Palestinian rights groups as supporters of terror. Israel hasn't presented a single piece of evidence to justify this bad decision.

In social affairs, government reports that recommend the revocation of the kibbutzim’s land privileges must be adopted, while responsibility must be taken for the disappearance of Yemenite-, North African- and Balkan-Jewish infants and toddlers in the early years of the state.

These demands could send the vital message that there is a left in Israel and that it’s an influential factor in the government.

Tom Mehager is an activist in the Mizrahi community.

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