The final nail in the coffin of the Zionist left

The implosion of the Zionist left has caused many to recognize the necessity of Jewish-Arab partnership. But that partnership will require Israeli Jews to shed their privileges and allow Palestinians to take the lead.

Labor Party head Amir Peretz (left) and Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz. (Courtesy of Democratic Union)
Labor Party head Amir Peretz (left) and Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz. (Courtesy of Democratic Union)

It’s difficult to hide a smile when considering the irony that Meretz, once the crown jewel of the “righteous” Zionist left, was last week swallowed whole by the Labor Party, now headed by two Mizrahi Israelis. Meretz, which found itself dangerously close to the election threshold, pulled out all the stops in trying to convince Labor head Amir Peretz, who previously refused the merger, to unite the two parties in a joint slate in the run-up to the upcoming elections on March 2. On Sunday, it appeared Peretz had given in to the pressure put on him by large swaths of the Zionist left.

That irony, however, that also carries with it a lesson: what Mizrahim are unable to achieve through the action of individuals — such as Mossi Raz and Avi Dabush, both members of Meretz, failing to climb the ranks of their own party — is far more easily obtainable through a separate, sovereign vessel.

The Labor-Meretz merger, as Dabush wrote on the pages of Local Call, is nothing more than a sour one between two political bodies fighting an existential war. But more than anything, it is the final nail in the coffin of the fiction we call the “Zionist left.”

For the sake of the merger, Meretz not only agreed to push MK Issawi Freij to the unlikely 11th spot on its list — thus turning its back on the Arab-Jewish leadership that some of its members had dreamed of — it also agreed to put someone like Yair Golan ahead of Freij, an Arab MK and longtime Meretz member, on the list. Golan, the former deputy chief of the IDF General Staff, previously said that he would take issue sitting in a government alongside members of the Joint List, while preaching to Palestinian MKs to “stop dealing so intensively with the Israel-Palestinian conflict and focus on internal matters.”

All this was done so that Meretz could join Labor, a party that, in its attempt to get votes from Israel’s underprivileged Jewish communities, has refrained from talking about the occupation and the violent control of millions of stateless people in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

I do not trivialize Labor’s thinking: in a reality in which the Jewish-Israeli public is sinking deeper into nationalism, racism, and fascism, any alternative to the violence of the right — even if that alternative only speaks about social and economic issues — is a welcome change. But a party that refuses to use the word “occupation” cannot be considered a left-wing one. And a party that insists on maintaining its Zionist identity after 71 years of Jewish supremacism must rethink its designation as left wing.

As a supporter of the Balad party and the Joint List, I couldn’t care less about the way the Zionist spectrum divides up its bases of power. Now, however, the merger between Meretz and Labor has made everything clearer, and on Election Day progressive Israeli Jews will be forced to make a decision that many still find difficult. They will have to choose between various shades of Jewish supremacism or genuine civil and national equality.

The perpetual implosion of the Jewish left in Israel has caused many to internalize the necessity of Jewish-Arab partnership. Unfortunately, this has typically led to tokenizing Palestinian candidates while presenting a false symmetry between oppressor and oppressed. This strategy has been unable to forge real partnerships and enlist both new Arab supporters and new Jewish ones. And not for naught: more than 70 years later, it is time to realize that you cannot have your cake and eat it too.

The final nail in the coffin of the Zionist left
Joint List head Ayman Odeh and MK Ahmad Tibi at a protest against violence and organized crime inside Israel’s Palestinian community, Majd al-Krum, Israel, October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

It is true that Israeli politics often appear an untenable mix of conflicts of interest and identities. But on a deeper level, things are far simpler than they appear: in a state in which not only the government, but the very regime itself, is built on a very clear set of privileges for one national group at the expense of the other, every step toward equality — whether civil or collective rights — must be led by the oppressed group. The privileged group must join the struggle and accept being led, otherwise it could find itself in the position of the “good master” negotiating with the “bad master” over expanding the rights of their serfs.

This step does not require giving up one’s identity or the unique interests of the majority, but it does require severing those interests from the idea of supremacy. That is, it forces Israeli Jews who want to belong to the left in its universalist form to recognize their place in the racial hierarchy that Zionism has created here, and to understand that any change must begin with one’s willingness to shed those very privileges.

Before the merger between Labor and Meretz, there were those who hoped to see Meretz (or at least parts of it) join the Joint List (or at least parts of it) to create that very vaunted Jewish-Arab party. The idea never came to fruition, and that’s a good thing for two reasons: firstly, because it is an inherently colonial act to dismantle the hard fought-for Palestinian political front for the sake of Zionists who struggle to sit alongside Palestinians who insist on speaking about both collective and civil rights. And secondly, such a merger would have created a veneer of symmetry that is light years from the Israeli reality.

The simple truth is that progressive Jewish Israelis who view themselves as left wing have no reason to vote for any party other than the Joint List. Anyone who reads the party platform will discover that, much to the chagrin of Yair Golan, its vision is far broader than the day-to-day issues facing Israel’s Palestinian citizens. It is a progressive and brave vision based on full civic equality and recognition of the collective rights of the two peoples who live here. Jews who do not fear giving up on supremacy in exchange for justice should have no problem adopting this platform wholeheartedly. In fact, now it seems they have no alternative.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.