The old Israeli Left is dead – I’ve been to its funeral

At a peace NGOs’ conference in Jericho a rift emerges between the old guard of the left and a post-Oslo generation of activists who are redefining traditional standpoints and values on all sides.

By Shalom Boguslavsky

Some expensive funeral, a gathering to exchange condolences, a front-row seat at a dinosaur extinction, a farewell event. These are a few of the cynical descriptions that billowed into the air of the Palestinian Israeli Peace NGO Forum conference in Jericho. And rightly so. The conference’s center stage was taken by “peace camp” veterans and youngsters living in (and of) their social networks, and they were reciting all their old slogans. “There is a partner; the agreement is ready – we only need the will to sign it; get the people out into the streets; reach out to new constituencies.” There was even an illustration of who the “new constituencies” are, a clip showing students dancing in the Hebrew University’s central forum. That was too much for me, so I snuck out to smoke a cigarette and trash those leftists for someone who understood what I was talking about. I smoked many, many cigarettes during that conference.

“Fuck the Palestinian state”

Said Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, and made my day. “I don’t care if there are two states here, one or three,” he said. “I’m only interested in all the inhabitants of this land being granted all their due rights, whatever the political settlement is.” Jabareen mentioned Jewish people’s affinity with the land. “Hebron is not only a Muslim city, you know,” he said, “Jews too have religious rights there.” As a Palestinian who is also Israeli citizen who lives in Haifa, when he had come to register at the reception, he told us, the organizers didn’t know whether to put his name on the list of Israeli representatives or on the list of Palestinian representatives. He too did not know. Jabareen is just one of many who may support the two state solution, but for whom this solution is far from being obvious.

The leftist faction of the mainstream – the geographic center of Israel, the center of the political map, the center of income distribution and the center of all things happening – cannot see any non-technical problem with the partition of the land. For this declining elite – Ashkenazi, veterans [i.e. from families residing here for several generations], established and affluent – the 1967 lines are completely congruous with its own identity. Hence their slogan “Get Out of the Territories – Return to Ourselves.” These people believe that post-withdrawal Israel will resemble the “beautiful” pre-1967 Israel. They are seriously mistaken. Israel during that era was “beautiful” only to the likes of them, a post-partition Israel will not resemble it whatsoever, and above all, there will be no return to “ourselves,” not even an imaginary “ourselves,” for most citizens had never been part of that “self.” For them it will be, at best, a solution on the verge of the unbearable from which there is no escape.

“The polls show most of the public supports two states,” said one Peace Now figure after I shared thoughts of this kind with my dinner table neighbors, and my main success, so it seems, was in pissing them off. True, but most of those people – including myself in an earlier version as a stupid teenager who would go to Peace Now demos during the Oslo period – aren’t supporting the two state solution while filled with joy and bliss.

People are half-hearted, hanging on to every excuse to delay and evade, and I think this is not only due to their being stupid, racist and paranoid (although they definitely are), but also due to the fact this is not really the solution they wish for. Every segment outside of the mainstream has some good reasons to be partial, and to resent those who don’t share their feelings. I experience it every time when the partition of my home town is discussed, someone says “let them have it all, and good riddance.”

So partition isn’t a dream solution for most, only the available solution. When this solution no longer seems available, in the course of the upcoming year or so, it will have no advantage over other unavailable solutions, like a single federated state, and such ideas will float toward the center of public debate.

This is the epitome of Israeli arrogance. Hutzpah!

Ziad Abu Zayyad shouted this word at some slick guy from the One Voice campaign, putting him in his place. We agreed to 22% of Historic Palestine as a starting point, we kept on compromising from there, being ever more flexible. Twenty years have passed, and the occupation is still here. And you say all that’s needed is for the Palestinians to compromise some more?!

The Al-Jazeera documents hovered over the conference like an irksome fluorescent light buzz, and the deep insult could be seen on the face of every Palestinian. This was easy to understand. After all, they were ambushed pretty much the same way as the Israeli left: everything they’ve fought for and preached to anyone who would listen was suddenly “exposed” and framed as “betrayal.”

The Palestinian Oslo generation, in a way, is a mirror image of the Israeli one. An old elite, Fatah members returning from the diaspora as well as young people living the (and living off) their networks. The partition deal is even less appealing to Palestinians than it is to Jews. However, the occupation regime has been so bad and has seemed so invincible that they have chosen the solution that seemed available. When the solution is no longer available, in the course of the upcoming year or so, they will probably dissolve the Palestinian Authority, return the keys to Israel and demand that it takes care of their rights. Let Israel sweat over this.

My intensifying impression over the past few years has been corroborated at the conference. I witnessed their politicians: sober, eloquent, straightforward and forthcoming. And I witnessed our politicians delivering cliché-laden primary-elections speeches, in bad English, and evading questions. When Prof. Avishai Braverman, former Labor Party minister, went through his B.S. routine of “I stayed in the government because I ranked the state’s interests above my personal interests,” I ran outside for a cigarette. When I came back, he was still at it, so I ran out again for another cigarette.

We, Israelis, are becoming more and more similar to the Arab stereotype we have nurtured. We have learned from them. They, in contrast, have learned from what we once used to be. While we are playing the victim card, blaming everybody for attempting to annihilate us, the Palestinians are learning how to take responsibility and build a state in the making. I have witnessed enough Israeli propaganda tours and conferences to compare. And what comes to my mind is that high school teacher of mine, whom everyone knew as an “extreme leftist,” who once made noise all over Israel by showing his class a Palestinian flag (illegal then) he had brought from his reserve service, saying that they should learn from the Palestinians what patriotism was.

A generation fades away, a new one emerges

The conference I attended took place on the margins of the central funeral, at the more distant tables, around ashtrays and in the back rows. Such was the roaming ground for all kinds of people who were not a prized target for the mingling artists. Among them were Russian speakers who are conducting a great patriotic war for democratic awareness within their sector, without any help or recognition. “We’ve tried Meretz” (small but architipical left-wing party), one of them told me, “but it didn’t work out.” Of course. How often a Russian, Mizrahi,  Jewish Orthodox  or an Arab makes it to a leadership role in a leftist party,  NGO or power center? There were people like me, Jerusalemites who do not see Tel Aviv as the Promised Land, and regard the loss of leftist politics of the Tel Aviv kind as a very minor tragedy.

The periphery of Israeli society is moving towards the center and becoming the center. It’s happening in the Israeli society at large, as well as within each sector. Look around you. A young generation, people who have not necessarily grown  in the hothouses of the old foci of power, is gradually pushing the previous generation aside. This is happening among the settlers, among the ultra-orthodox, it is surely happening among the Arabs, and it is happening among the left as well. At the white elephant called “The Jericho Intercontinental Hotel,” I saw the place where white elephants go to die. But I also saw the people who will move to center stage thanks to that.

Shalom Boguslavsky was born in Russia in 1976, has been living in Jerusalem since 1981, studies history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and makes his living as a group leader, facilitating discussions about Jewish-Israeli identity, dialogue & conflict management.

Translated by Ofer Neiman.