Israel’s ‘Jewish values’ will forever leave Palestinians on the sidelines

Labor leader Avi Gabbay called the Left too ‘liberal’ and not Jewish enough, reminding us that he has much more in common with Netanyahu than he lets on.

By Iddo Naiss

Zionist Union party leader Avi Gabbay seen at the Knesset, October 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union party leader Avi Gabbay seen at the Knesset, October 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

From the earliest days of Jewish nationalism, there were fundamental disagreements between its different stripes over the role their ideology would have once submerged into a state. Many disagreements, but one common denominator: the interests of the Jewish people were first priority.

This was logical during the period before the founding of Israel, when the Zionist movement worried solely about the fate of the Jewish people around the world, much like the Palestinian national movement of today cares for Palestinians spread across the diaspora. But from the moment of the establishment of the state, there should have been an internal Jewish struggle over the influence of Jewish nationalism on the state’s character. In this struggle (if one can even call it a struggle), the nationalists won. Not only did they win — they routed their opponents, to the point that a Jew who does not identify as a Jewish nationalist is disdained by nearly every part of the Jewish political spectrum.

Labor Party head Avi Gabbay, who represents the “alternative” to Prime Minister Netanyahu, responded to remarks made by the prime minister in 1997, in which the latter claimed the Israeli Left had “forgotten what it means to be Jewish.” Gabbay went even further with his criticism of the Left, saying that it “has focused on being liberal” while eschewing its Jewish identity.

The main thing that comes to mind is that this is complete nonsense — the Israeli Left is not liberal in any sense of the word, at least not in the way Gabbay and Netanyahu imagine them to be. There is not a single Jewish party today (yes, including Meretz) that has shed its ethnic-Jewish identity and replaced it with a civic identity. Instead, we are left with disagreements between the heads of Jewish parties over what is “good for the Jews.”

Where are the Palestinians?

Generally speaking, Israel has two camps: those who pretend, and those who do not. The latter have no qualms saying that the Land of Israel belongs entirely to the Jewish people. They do not bother themselves with questions of what the country’s minorities may think. Minorities, including the native population, are guests, and everything they receive is a result of our benevolence.

On the other hand, we have the pretenders — the self-styled liberals — who will use every trick in the book to enjoy the best of both worlds. They want to maintain Jewish identity as a necessary component of civic identity, yet understand the impossibility of writing off the aspirations of the minorities. This is especially true when their aspirations to take back power rest on minority votes.

The best of both worlds has brought us what Gabbay termed “Jewish values.” The goal is clear: on the one hand to promise to maintain the Jewish component of our civic identity, while also trying to assuage non-Jews that we will “take care of them.” Politically speaking, this is the same old futile song and dance; after all, the Jewish nationalist will always prefer the original to its cheap imitations, while the Palestinian nationalist will never make peace with Jewish patronage. And yet, this kind of rhetoric is destructive, as it sterilizes every attempt to build a real civil society, all while hampering open thought, a necessary component for every democratic society.

Avi Gabbay can try with all his might to present himself as an alternative to Netanyahu, but there is one thing the two of them — and the entire Jewish political spectrum — have in common: their political language is meant for Jews alone. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the country, are left on the sidelines until the Jews decide who is a real Jew, who is left and who is right, and what the difference between the two actually is.

Ido Naiss forgot what it means to be Jewish. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.