No, Herzog, ‘Arab lovers’ is the last thing you can say about Labor

Isaac Herzog’s plea to the Labor Party to shed their ‘Arab-loving’ image is the latest in a series of pathetic attempts to pander to the right. Might offering a viable political and moral alternative to the right do the trick?

By Orly Noy

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog at campaign headquarters on election night, March 17, 2015. (Oren Ziv/
Labor party leader Isaac Herzog at campaign headquarters on election night, March 17, 2015. (Oren Ziv/

Labor leader Isaac Herzog was absolutely right when he said on Tuesday that his party is a fountain of endless and unremitting Arab loving. As the following (very partial) selection of quotes may attest, adulation of Arabs is a long-held Labor Party tradition:

In 1981, during an election rally in Beit Shemesh, former Chief of Staff and then Labor MK Mordechai Gur told Mizrahi hecklers: “We will screw you just like we screwed the Arabs. Their crying didn’t help when we screwed them, nor will yours when we screw you.”

Or take the feted diplomat and politician Abba Eban, who said in 1960: “One of our greatest concerns of late, when we review the state of our culture, is that a growing number of immigrants from Middle Eastern countries will equate our cultural level to that of our neighbors.”

And here’s Shimon Peres, a Labor party bigwig like no other: “The injustice we do by expropriating the land is not nearly as flagrant as the injustice the Arabs do to us by preventing peace.” Or Golda Meir, another founding mother, who came up with this gem: “We will never forgive the Arabs for making our children kill them.” And last but not least, let’s not forget Yitzhak Rabin, who instructed Israeli soldiers to “break their bones” as a measure against Palestinian protesters during the first Intifada.

As you can see, love of Arabs is all around. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s more, throughout its history the party showed their love in more concrete way than this kind of sweet talk. In the early state years, and even before that, it was Labor’s forebears who determined Israel’s relationship with its Arab citizens. The military administration of Israel’s Palestinian community, abolished only in 1966, wasn’t the brainchild of the right. And as Balad MK Jamal Zahalka pointed out, right-wing government built settlements alongside Palestinian villages, while the spiritual leaders of the Labor Party built theirs on the ruins of the villages that were depopulated and demolished in 1948.

And we must not think it’s all ancient history. The most disastrous rift in the history of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel was ushered in 2000, during Ehud Barak’s premiership, when police shot live rounds at Palestinian citizens of Israel, killing 13. At that moment, the entire community was marked as enemies of the state.

The party’s current incarnation may have softened its rhetoric, but in essence they’re on the same track. They would solemnly vow to protect Israel’s democracy, but at the same time support MK Haneen Zoabi’s expulsion from the Knesset. Similarly, they would support – or at least condone – legislation whose sole purpose is to further restrict the already limited civil liberties of the Palestinian community, such as the broadening of the legal definition of terrorist activity, that the Zionist Union helped pass last year, or the amendment to the Citizenship Law, that bans Palestinians from becoming Israeli citizens by marriage.

The real tragedy of the Labor Party is that there was more than an element of truth in what Herzog said. In the rightist discourse, which has become predominant in Israel for some decades already, Labor has a solid reputation as Arab lovers. Despite their persistent attempts to pander to the Jewish mainstream, they have not shed that image. They only pushed the political midpoint further to the right, but nonetheless remained to the left of it. Even if Herzog suddenly declared that all the Arabs should be thrown into the sea, there would be right-wingers decrying him as an incorrigible leftie.

What is the way out of all this, you ask? First of all, instead of shaping your policy according to the polls and to the public’s passing whims, why not do it according to that odd little thing called conscience? Nobody will vote for Labor just because it is good enough an imitation of Likud. People will always opt for the real thing, as they should.

Another option, as revolutionary as it may sound, is to come up with an alternative. Who knows, you may find out that enough people will vote for a real change if they’re offered one.