The radical Left has become the punching bag of the “legitimate Left”, that is, the “Zionist Left”.
The first to attack was the man who stands at the head of the “Zionist Union”, Bougie Herzog. He heads a party that shuns the label “Left” as if it were fire. A party that fled even from its own name in order to distance itself from the Left. Once, in days long past, it was called the “Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel” (Hebrew acronym: Mapai). Then it became the “Labour” Party, eventually to end up on the present safe shore – the “Zionist Union”. ‘We’re finished with “workers” and “labour”; now we’re just Zionists.’ And the leader of the Zionists accuses Shelly Yachimovitz, a member of his party, of having, under the influence of the radical Left, brought Lieberman on us! He fears that the people not will like him and his party if they see them as “Arab-lovers”. He is apparently confident that if he incites against Arabs and the “radical Left” he will win back the love (vote) of the people. Maybe he also fantasizes that joining up with Netanyahu will completely cleanse him of love of Arabs and the Left and he will be recognized as a kosher Zionist.
And now Tzvia Greenfeld, a former Meretz MK, has warned in Haaretz about the “harm of the radical Left” (20 May 2016). In Meretz fear of the radical Left is endemic and avoiding the radical Left is an order from on high. In the last elections they feared losing votes to the Zionist Union, so they reassured voters that Meretz would side with the Zionist Union in the struggle against the Likud. Maybe now, after Bougie’s shameful courtship of Netanyahu, even liberals in Meretz will understand, as well as those who were tempted to vote for Meretz as a left-wing party, the degree of judgment and realism possessed by the party that is tagging along behind the Zionist Union. Nevertheless, Meretz apparently succeeded in one thing: stealing a few votes from the Joint List.
And just how is the radical Left “harmful” in Greenfeld’s eyes? It is not so clear. She is enraged that the radical Left, which is not so big, enjoys influence on the public discourse above and beyond its political strength. Accordingly, for example, she laments that the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem “seems to have dedicated mighty efforts to advance the agenda of the radical Left for over 25 years.” No less! This brings to my mind – and please forgive me for this association –Senator Joseph McCarthy brandishing a purported list of 200 Communists in the US Foreign Service and warning the American people of the spreading influence of Communism. Greenfeld, of course, is not Senator Joseph McCarthy, but her campaign against the radical Left bears some of his hallmarks, foremost among them the sowing of fear and panic. Similarly, it is a little strange that the writer, so concerned about the Van Leer Institute, does not devote her energy to repelling the advances of the Right which is establishing control over education in Israel.
Greenfeld is also shocked at the appeal the radical Left has for part of the Zionist Left. She complains about “the leadership of the Left which has not dared to turn a critical thought towards the camp internally,” but “allowed the radical Left to become a charismatic and influential actor without interference.” Moreover, leaders of the Left “sometimes adapted for themselves the victorious ideology.” And “their wish may also be to ingratiate themselves to those who are perceived as youth wrapped in universal values.” Those words can be seen as praise for the radical Left, which apparently is not as out of touch as many want to describe it; but before the radical Left pats itself on the back it should understand that the intention here is to cast suspicion and promote fear of it.
The writer is shocked that the radical Left is anti-Zionist. Horror of horrors! Shlomo Zand does not recognize the Jewish People! To hear it from her, you would think Zand wanted to exterminate the Jews all over the world. Indeed, the radical Left does not believe in the abstract concept of a “global Jewish People”. Does an American Jew, for example, see himself as belonging to such a global people? Does he vote for a global Jewish President, global Jewish Senators? In wartime does he volunteer for the global Jewish military, or simply join the US military? To whom does he pay his taxes, where does he work, and to what school does he send his children? What is his and his children’s language and culture? True, some Jewish Americans feel a connection with Jews in Israel and other countries throughout the world, and there may even be family ties among them. But that that is also true of Americans of Italian, Irish, Chinese origin etc. Jews share the Jewish religion, but just as Catholicism does not make one people of the Italians and the French, neither does the Jewish religion make one people of Jews in different countries.
The importance of ethnic consciousness among Americans has been studied a great deal. Peter Novick, in an excellent book on this subject,* relates how the attachment to ethnic origin gets weaker from the third generation onward. That too is the situation today among American Jews. The vast majority of them see themselves as proud Americans. They do not immigrate to Israel. Not only that, but the number of Israelis who immigrate to the USA and do all they can to become US citizens is vastly larger than the number of American Jews who immigrate to Israel. Despite the fact that American Jews have the Right of Return and Israeli Jews do not have the right to “return” to the USA. If the latter were the case, then we could request, as in the old joke, that the last person to leave Ben-Gurion airport please turn off the lights.
Greenfeld misses the good old Zionism that never existed. Meretz and the Zionist Union aspire to receive the Zionist seal of approval by going along with the “eyes right” mentality that is prevalent in this country. Thus does Meretz strengthen the hand of the Zionist Union when the latter comes out against Netanyahu, and Netanyahu himself tries to be a “patriot” like Bennett and Lieberman, and together they all tumble into the lap of Meir Kahane of blessed memory. But when all is said and done, when they contend with the radical Left the honourable writer as well as the leader of the Zionist Union aren’t particularly worried about any harm coming to Zionism. They interpret the anti-Zionism of the radical Left, correctly, not as antisemitism but as steadfastness in the defence of the rights of the Palestinians, and for that reason it should be condemned. In the atmosphere of incitement that is the norm today, it is very important to demonstrate one’s opposition to Palestinian rights.
Meretz and the Zionist Union are looking for a niche between themselves and the Zionist Right. They are looking for a political space in which they can continue to exist without losing their friends and sympathizers, finding the exact dosage of patriotism and Zionist nationalism (as the historical Mapai, for which Greenfeld longs, allegedly found in its time). In its time Hashomer Hatzair called for a synthesis between Zionism and socialism. But those days are long gone, and today there is no political space between the Occupation and full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, between the oppression of the Palestinian people and a Palestinian state, between the dispossession of the Palestinians and returning the land that was stolen. Between war and peace.
This futile quest is evidence that Meretz and the Zionist Union have lost their political vision. The harm they fear from the radical Left is from “that deep ideological rift that has existed for years within the Left itself and distanced it from the masses of voters.” But at the end of the day both the Zionist Union and Meretz, by distancing themselves from the radical Left, are hoping to find political cover with the Israeli Right.
Which brings us back to the radical Left and the difference between it and the Zionist Left. It is indeed a strange animal in Israeli politics. It is not willing to bow down to the Right, not even if it loses votes among the Jewish public. Indeed this Left is not “flexible”, it is not “realistic”. It stubbornly sticks to its principles and is willing to continue keep up the struggle against the Occupation even after the passage of 50 years, at a time when most Zionist liberals already “understood” long ago that this was “unrealistic”, and when good people, people of good will, decided that now is the time to struggle for equal rights for Palestinians within Greater Israel, or bi-nationalism.
The radical Left, on the other hand, will continue in its struggle against the Occupation, for Palestinian independence, and for peace. It is not alone in its struggle. Most countries and people in the world support a Palestinian state. The radical Left understands very well that the fate of the Palestinians will ultimately be determined by the Palestinians themselves. They are the ones who will decide on the means of struggle for their liberation and the creation of their state.
* The Holocaust in American life. By Peter Novick. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston – New York 1999
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent