Israel's Left Doesn't Want It

The left has historically oscillated between the poles of faith in spontaneity and denial of its value.

The biggest failure connected to the social protest movement in Israel is the failure of what was once the left, despite its growing membership, to exert any influence over it.

The left has historically oscillated between the poles of faith in spontaneity and denial of its value. Since the early 19th century there have been those who believed that only the spontaneous action of "the masses," who were infallible, could change the existing order.

But at least as far back as the Russian Revolution, revolutionaries refuted the value of spontaneity. To them, the masses are a human herd that is spurred by the sound of its own screams and the sight of its own image to move enthusiastically, as a powerful force. Napoleon emerged from the French Revolution. The ensuing suspicion gave birth to belief in the organization, which was supposed to give a voice to the screaming choir and lead "the masses" to revolution.

It's not only Stalin who emerged from this latter logic. The social democrats, for example, also led "their" trade unions, represented the masses and fed off their enthusiasm, but were sometimes wary of them as well. The Dreyfus Affair is the best-known example of the left's encountering the bloodthirsty barbarity of the modern herd.

Both these tendencies were visible, almost like faint pencil marks, in last year's social protest movement.

On one side were the "founders of the tent city," who tried to get the maximum possible out of spontaneity and refused to allow any organization to draw "the masses" to its side. On the other was a single "organization," the National Union of Israeli Students. It has only a handful of activists, but its wealth comes from the power, from the fees collected from tens of thousands of students in exchange for involuntary membership in an organization that ostensibly represents their interest. The students' prominence in the protests stemmed from their wealth; their caution stemmed from the awareness that they had no real power behind them, other than press statements declaring "We, the students."

But last year's protest movement did not succeed in expanding spontaneity beyond the bounds of what is called the middle class - good children whose economic situation is worse than that of their parents. All that remains is a vague anticipation. But the atmosphere is saturated with the fear of thousands of people that once again who worry that this time, too, television will prettify the protests until they end with the "middle class" being led to attack the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs. Some pundits are already disappointed: There are no political slogans.

True, there are no left-wing political slogans. That is the shame of the impotent radical left. For decades its activists have grown older while awaiting some awakening like that which actually occurred. But when it came they lacked the emotional strength to join, to be roped in and to rope others in, to be simple foot soldiers and to have an impact.

The trouble with the radical left is its inability to understand what a hierarchy is. That is the real meaning of "anarchism." It's not really about an anarchist ideology, or the worldview of a broad coalition; it's a collection of tiny fragments that coalesce around funding from abroad and/or the egos of petty leaders who are incapable of giving up the pleasure of "being right" - as if politics were like writing a blog.

Hierarchy means accepting the yoke of leadership. Even more important, hierarchy means having an agenda. And an agenda means making a distinction between more important and less important issues. Hierarchy means abandoning the infantile desire to demand it all.

With all due respect to the success of the Nakba Day event that one of the enclaves of the left organized at Tel Aviv University, the radical left has missed out on an entire year of work. No enclave, and no organization, will admit that its issues interfere with the protests' "general line," or are less important than it. No professor will recant his vow that "if I don't give a speech, I won't attend the demonstration."

And what underlies all this is the pleasure of staying right where they are, because really, nothing's burning. It's even pleasant there.

Read this article in Hebrew