April 11, 2019


Why the Zionist left died this week:  Stuck in a Zionist paradigm, Israel's mainstream left-wing parties are unable to put forth a vision of equality and inclusion for all in Israel-Palestine. (Edo Konrad |Published April 10, 2019, +972)

Labor and Meretz lost voters to Gantz's "anyone but Bibi" campaign. But there is something far more fundamental at play here: neither party has been able to come up with a compelling vision because they are unable to grapple with two issues that haunt Israeli society: the dark legacy of 1948, and five decades of military rule in the occupied territories.

They are afraid because Netanyahu has shifted the discourse so far to the right that discussing the occupation has now become a taboo. Because those who want to talk about human rights violations in the West Bank or Gaza are now labeled traitors. Because talking about the Nakba or the fate of Palestinian refugees is beyond the pale.

There are, of course, other reasons for the downfall of the once-dominant liberal parties. For much of the past two decades, with the demise of the peace process that it once led, Labor has attempted to position itself as a centrist party with a dovish pedigree, abandoning left-wing politics altogether. While Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reached out to Arab citizens in the early 90s -- the Arab parties helped ensure he could push through the Oslo Accords while keeping his government intact -- any talk of a real alliance with Israel's Palestinian community has never been on the table.

Beset by years of accusations that it was too Ashkenazi-dominated, that it was corrupt, and that it did too little to undo the damage caused by institutionalized discrimination against Israel's Mizrahi population during the early years of the state, Labor brought in Avi Gabbay to head the party. Gabbay is not the first Mizrahi to head the party, but many on the inside believed that his rags-to-riches story -- born to Moroccan parents in a working-class Jerusalem neighborhood, he rose to become the CEO of Israel's largest telecommunications company -- would speak to voters in the economically depressed towns in Israel's periphery who for decades turned their back on Labor.

But neither an increase in diversity nor a relatively moderate social democratic economic agenda brought Labor the redemption it yearned for. On the contrary, Gabbay's middle-of-the-road politics, which never truly meshed with the youthful, idealistic image of some of its younger hopefuls, was a turn-off for classic Labor voters. When it came to the issue of Israel's 52-year-old military occupation, Labor offered little: more building in the settlement blocs, pledges to evacuate outposts, and a referendum for Israeli citizens over Palestinian neighborhoods and refugee camps on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Gabbay also declared that he would not sit in a coalition with the Arab parties.

Given its lack of a clear vision, many veteran Labor and Meretz voters drifted toward Gantz -- the retired IDF chief of staff who led a campaign bereft of any real promises apart from taking down Netanyahu.

Posted by at April 11, 2019 12:02 AM