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The Israeli Left Is Tired of Identity Politics

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Meretz and Labor signs in Jerusalem, during the 2021 election.
Meretz and Labor signs in Jerusalem, during the 2021 election.Credit: Emil Salman
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The severe crisis that recently struck Meretz, characterized by extreme alienation of voters from the party, reveals some of the shifts taking place in the deeper strata of the left. So does the solution planned for the crisis – the return of veteran party leader Zehava Galon. These shifts have still not found expression on the surface, but are certainly roiling below it.

Two tough women will determine the fate of the Israeli left

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Meretz has been accused of becoming the “LGBTQ, cannabis and climate crisis party” – that is, the party dealing with issues that until recently were considered the keystone values of the liberal camp and have now been rebranded as “esoteric.” This is after the hostility to the party reached its apex when the candidate with a reserved seat on the list for her ethnicity – MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi – stepped out of line and showed an independent will opposed to that of most of the voters, who were against toppling the “government of change.” The party leader, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, the minister who brought the greatest results to the liberal camp – a country that remained open during COVID, a change in the attitude of the health system to the LGBTQ community and abortion reform – was sent away in shame.

The characteristics of the crisis described above may reveal the left’s fatigue with identity politics and the accompanying regime of political correctness, whose rules Horowitz made sure to apply to Meretz. This mood was common mainly among those born in the 1980s and later, those who adopted identity politics, instilled them in the camp’s DNA and are now having trouble dealing with the outcome, and the younger generations that have been shaped in its image.

In this context, it’s also interesting to look at the leader of the Labor Party, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli. She perhaps spearheaded identity politics, through maximum allegiance to feminism. Although proud of her achievements and reaping political dividends from them, today she strictly observes the use of both the feminine and the masculine forms in Hebrew instead of the singular feminine only as she once did. Along with this, she has branded herself as the successor of Yitzhak Rabin (not quite Malcolm X or Judith Butler). These gestures, gentle but palpable, are intended to reduce antagonism so as to amass more power. That is, even Michaeli realizes that identity politics has now become a burden on her that has to be modified and diluted with other content.

Paradoxically, this distaste attests to the success of liberal struggles because until not so long ago, the norms in essential issues, first and foremost attitudes toward women, were utterly different. This cultural change, which was packed into a little more than a decade – and that has still not brought true equality – has also been adopted by the right wing and spouted by groups in this camp challenging what they perceived as hegemony.

The energy of the progressive struggle has spread to fields that are no longer perceived as essential, important or even just, especially not by liberals themselves. When in the name of some sort of representative justice, an actress who isn’t fat can no longer portray the character of an overweight woman; when parties seek to look like a Benetton poster, sometimes at the price of substance – many liberals doubt the struggles of yesteryear, and suspect that they are hosting at best a pedantic, disproportionate struggle (“progressive trolling”), and at worst a violent struggle lacking balance, sense of proportion and logic.

Moreover, identity politics is suspected not only as an esoteric hobby, but as a harmful enterprise. The members of the generation that adopted it see after several years that it did not bring new supporters to the left as hoped, but instead deepened the polarity in the liberal camp itself, producing groups that are fighting among themselves, without offering any sort of healing at the end of the process. Thus, it is perceived as an autoimmune threat that can lead to the left’s extinction. And thus, fatigue from identity politics simply expresses a will to survive.

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