In this article, published in place of an editorial in the first issue of Meha’ah (see Introduction to the previous item), the writer, member of the radical and anti-Zionist Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen) polemicizes against an article by Ari Shavit in the left-Zionist journal Politika (Politics).
It seems that it is possible to write a long and critical review of the left in Israel, without mentioning even once the term ‘Zionism’, or the term ‘socialism’. Without understanding the connection, or the contradiction, between these it is impossible to understand the dilemmas of the left in Israel, but it seems that the left discussed by Ari Shavit in the last issue of Politika is not exactly left: in some places he refers to it as ‘the Israeli left’, and on other occasions as ‘the so-called Israeli left’; sometimes it is ‘the elitist left’, and sometimes ‘the leftist elite’.
It is not accidental that the left in Israel is defined by its position on the Zionist-Palestinian question, rather than on social issues. (There are some exceptions. Neturei Karta 1 for instance, are not considered left, in spite of their extremely anti-Zionist position.) The Arab questlon – or its converse, the Jewish question – is the main topic, the first test that any person has to pass on their way to the left. As far as the right is concerned, a ‘moderate’ position towards the Arabs suffices to label a person as leftist. It seems that Ari Shavit too thinks that this is enough, but for some reason he excludes from this left 700,000 Arabs who are Israeli citizens. His distinction between ‘us’ (the left) as opposed to ‘them’ (the right) transforms itself – in spite of all the well-meaning phrases – into ‘us’ (Israelis, or more accurately Jews) as opposed to ‘them’ (Arabs). Somehow he also manages to ignore the Oriental Jewish left movements (Ha-mizrah el Ha-shalom ‘The East towards Peace’; Ha-hazit Ha-mizrahit ‘The Oriental Front’), and invites the definition of the left which he addresses: ‘the Ashkenazi left’. Shavit is sure that the future of Israeli society will be decided internally, and only internally. It seems from his article that he thinks that Israeli society is actually a Jewish society. He would like to see the left acting with its back to the Palestinians, and ‘facing the Matnasim2 and the Moshavim3, the companies of Golani4 and the RAFAEL laboratories5, the blocks of flats in development towns, and the luxury houses of the bneh beitkha 6 neighbourhoods’. And what does he actually want the left to do and say in these social environments? ‘To suggest a true vision of democracy and humanism that will be an alternative to the false visions of the right’. Which is to say, an empty elitist verbiage, exactly what he preaches against where the left is concerned.
If this is what the left is urged to do, it might as well continue on its present course. Its present missions are hard enough to accomplish as it is. Still, it is interesting to see how Shavit manages, not very elegantly, to bypass the words ‘Oriental’ and ‘workers’. The former sounds too ‘ethnic’, the latter too ‘socialist’. After all, what has he got to say to the workers of a Histadrut plant, who discover that their trade union is actually their employer? Or to civil servants who find out that their trade union is selling them out to the government in return for financial support for its failing plants? He would continue to peddle to them his true vision of democracy and humanism, and they would continue to reject him as yet another representative of the ‘leftist’ elite.
Shavit senses, quite properly, that alongside a political solution, the left must develop a social programme, and fight for it. But the social programme that he suggests is perhaps suitable for leftists such as Amnon Rubinstein7, but hardly for a real left. He also claims that the left evades its social responsibility because it is in love with being a minority, and that is why it sticks to the ‘territorial’ struggle against the occupation. When Shavit writes on the chances of the left becoming a majority, he does not consider the possibility that the Arabs may become part of this majority. The exclusion of the Arabs from the political picture (in elitist phrasemongering we may refer to this as a ‘conceptual transfer’) actually reduces the chances that the left could ever become a majority, and turns Shavit’s claims in spite of his optimism to pessimism.
Yet one more assertion of his: the left not only loves to be a minority, it also rejects the democratic principle of the sovereignty of the people, expressed by the will of the majority. This is, of course, a right-wing line of argumentation. The right never wanted to understand the distinction between ‘elections’ and democracy. Democracy is meant to ensure human rights, and the sovereignty of the people cannot come at the expense of denying the rights of an entire population. Shavit ignores the fact that the supposedly democratic Israeli majority has been ruling for the last 21 years over a million and a half people, whose basic rights are denied, day in, day out.
This Israeli majority is actually an artificial one. It is a majority which is maintained by a racist law (the Law of Return), by racist policies which deny re-entry to hundreds of thousands of refugees who were deported or who went into exile 40 years ago, and by a military administration which oppresses the million and a half people living in the Occupied Territories. People of the left may differ on the preferred political solution, but they cannot deny the bond between the Palestinians and this country and still be leftist. The fate of this country will be determined not only by Jews; a person of the left cannot cast the Palestinian in the role of an external, foreign, passive element in determining that fate.
It may possible to propose a leftist project that would explain logically why it is preferable to abandon the main struggle, the defense of the most oppressed and exploited group, in favour of an attempt to detach more and more Israelis from the right. Shavit does not manage to convince us that he knows how to do that. He should at least have told us what banner he proposes that the left uphold while it changes fronts. During the last few weeks, such a turn has been made by a group of the ‘elitist left’ called ‘Lapid’. Lapid’s banner both literally and figuratively is the [Zionist] blue-and-white flag, with the Jewish religious six-pointed star in its middle. The name Lapid is the acronym of ‘lepitaron yehudi democrati’ (‘for a Jewish Democratic solution’). Since there cannot be a democratic solution which is also Jewish (that is, without an actual or conceptual transfer), this left delivers itself to the hands of the right. Lapid’s slogan, ‘One deserves more than the Likkud can deliver’, when coupled with racist demographic propaganda, warning of an Arab majority, does not only prepare the ground for Apartheid or transfer; talk of a ‘Jewish Democratic’ solution is tantamount to the claim that the Jews are not obliged to accept the decision of the majority, if that majority is composed partly of Arabs.
If what Shavit is offering the left is this form of self- destruction, we may counter his offer with the final sentence of his article: ‘History will indeed judge harshly even our refined march of fools’.
- Literally, ‘Guardians of the City’, An ultra-orthodox Jewish faction which maintains that Zionist state is a heresy. ↩
- Community centres for culture, youth, and sport. ↩
- Semi-cooperative agricultural communities. ↩
- An army brigade, known particularly for the working-class origin of many of its soldiers. ↩
- RAPHAEL is an acronym of rashut le-pituah emtzs’ei lehima: Authority for the Development of Weapons, the military’s scientific outfit. ↩
- A development scheme for affluent, upper middle class families, which is based on semi-planned communities, in which residents contract to plan and build their own residences. ↩
- A bourgeois politician. ↩