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The Israeli Left's Younger Generation Has Not Despaired

Alit Karp
Alit Karp
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A billboard by Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now, welcoming U.S President Joe Biden, hangs on a building in the coastal city of Tel Aviv in July.
A billboard by Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now, welcoming U.S President Joe Biden, hangs on a building in the coastal city of Tel Aviv in July.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP
Alit Karp
Alit Karp

At the end of the evening, the audience rose to its feet to sing the anthems. Yes, there are two at events of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. First we sing Shaul Tchernichovsky’s “Ani Ma’amin / Sahki Sahki” (“I believe”) and only afterward the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikva.” For a moment I returned to the distant past. It almost seemed as if, when the singing ended, the audience would be asked to remain standing so the oldest men, Ya’ari and Hazan, could leave the hall without tripping over the feet of the crowd. Yet not only have these two lain in their graves for many years already, but the word “crowd” is too big for the few dozen parents and students who attended the graduation Sunday of the oldest youth members, some of whom began their military service the following morning.

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I attended this event because my son, Oded Karp, was a madrikh, or counselor, for this age group, and he will stay in touch with its members during their military service. More than a decade ago, I attended a similar ceremony; then, my son was a member, or hanikh.

In the intervening 12 years, he served as a combat soldier and was discharged; he joined a garin (a group that will move someplace together and then work together to run activities there) and, after it fell apart, he joined a different one; he studied math at Haifa’s Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, transferred to Beit Berl Teachers Training College and become a teacher.

He and his fellow madrikhim led successive groups of youth members. They were not dismayed by the small number of hanikhim, the difficulties of maintaining the program or by all the people – and there were many – who dropped out along the way, which was never easy for a moment. They didn’t hesitate to travel to the farthest reaches of the country for seminars, activities and meetings with members or prospective members.

Their goal in all of this was to try to solve problems together with other young people who had concluded that Israeli society had despaired and must therefore be worked with and nurtured, and that they must not despair, despite everything they see around them.

They, just like Haaretz columnist Rogel Alpher, see a lot, and they do so very soberly. They too know that only 10 percent of young people define themselves as leftists, that almost half the population is on the flaming right and that others are merely center-right.

But they, unlike Alpher, haven’t despaired. They aren’t throwing up their hands. And even though they aren’t sticking their heads in the sand, they certainly don’t urge young people to leave the country or, as others on the left do, refuse to be drafted.

This group believes that without it, and without the efforts it is making to restore the left to its former glory, Israeli society could descend into dangerous places both in the army and in general. And they’re right. They not only believe, but they’re trying to get others to believe. And maybe, sometimes, they even succeed.

In the face of Alpher’s call for people to emigrate, it’s important to also show these young people, the few against the many. They live very modestly, sometimes truly ascetically. They share apartments and cars and eat meals together. They haven’t set their sights on the perks of high tech or the joys of real estate. And they won’t vote for Bezalel Smotrich or Itamar Ben-Gvir or even for Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, but evidently for Meretz – the party whose role Alpher thinks has already ended.

The Israeli left is in trouble, even in big trouble. But to extricate it from the depths to which it has sunk, it’s not enough to sit and write angry op-eds in Haaretz. A little bit more is needed, even if it requires personal sacrifice – and it does. Sometimes of one’s career, sometimes of money and always of convenience.

This little bit more is being given by the members of Hashomer Hatzair’s garinim. And perhaps also by members of the other youth movements that still turn their faces to the rising sun.

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