October 26, 2003


What became of the Israeli left? (Ian Buruma, Guardian, 10/23/2003)

The left in Israel always was the preserve of the European elite. Socialism did not grow out of the socio-economic problems of a local working class, but was transferred, along with Bauhaus, Chopin and Brahms, as part of Zionist idealism. Ideology was not the product of circumstances; it preceded them....

Yair Tzaban, a former cabinet minister under Itzhak Rabin, explains how his leftwing Zionist party, Mapam, is always mentioned in the polls as the party fighting hardest for social rights, but "can't capitalise on it because of our national problems". For "the working classes vote for the right".

This seems to be the end toward which many democracies are evolving: On the left is a party of the elite, who want to rule; on the right is a party of the people, who want liberty and law to restrain the powerful.

Posted by Paul Jaminet at October 26, 2003 8:33 PM


Doesn't that put France ahead of the curve, as the party of the Left has been the party of government since the French Revolution?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 26, 2003 10:14 PM

In Israel, the appropriate aphorism would be: "A conservative is a liberal who witnessed a homicide bombing". Or knew someone killed or wounded in such an attack. Or had a family member wounded or killed. Or is a first-responder. That is really all it takes.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 26, 2003 10:24 PM

That would require that, say, Le Pen is a champion of liberty and law.

I ain't buyin' that.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 26, 2003 11:38 PM

One would indeed like to think so (and yes, it ought to be a no-brainer), but relative to Jacques Chirac, anything is possible.

I think that one of the fascinating questions of the moment is, how efficient is (and will be) Chirac's cover-up/damage control mechanism....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 27, 2003 3:40 AM

Seems to me that Buruma makes several glaringly inaccurate assertions here.

His assertion that the left was "always the preserve of the European elite" is an absurd post facto fallacy.

That it has become the preserve of the European elite is perhaps closer to the truth, but not even this formulation is entirely accurate.

The reasons for Israel's initial socialist underpinnings, and successes, are manifold; just as the ultimate weakness and failures of those socialist underpinnings can be charted.

Moreover, the ideology of socialism, it seems to me, was both the product of circumstances (dire poverty and oppressive conditions in the working classes, and of Jews in particular, exacerbated by the post-WWI revolution wrought by the collapse of empires) even as it further "fueled" circumstances.

And it is no stretch to say that the socialist movement has, in the 20th century strengthened capitalism (at least in the US), even as capitalism has succeeded in demonstrating the weaknesses inherent in socialism.

As for Israel, the correction to the overly socialist state has proven to be necessary from an economic point of view. That an ideological vacuum has remained to be filled is, I believe,
also apparent. The problem becomes what will fill that vacuum (or any vacuum) vacated by an intense ideology.

One hopes the contents in constructive and not otherwise....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 27, 2003 3:58 AM


The "left-right" political continuum you to rely on seems to comes from post-Hitler/Stalin pact Europe. Times have changed. The right that you imagine so different from the left that you have in mind are in fact pretty much the same thing: Statists, planners and social engineers. The Stalinist definition of the right/left continuum is nonsense.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 28, 2003 2:05 PM