Settlers protest sign_390.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In Israel, the political terms Left and Right are not like their nominal
counterparts in the rest of the democratic world.
Instead of dealing
mainly with economic and social issues, as is the case abroad, the Israeli
leftists and rightists focus primarily on this country’s territorial
Left-wingers here advocate substantial if not total withdrawal
from the West Bank and right-wingers insist on the retention of this biblical
area in its entirety.
Outside of Israel, leftists are those who support
trade unions, advocate fair and adequate pay for salaried employees, and
generous welfare benefits for the needy. Rightists there advocate minimal
regulation of private business, lower taxes on corporate profits and less
monitoring of private interests.
This is true of France (where the terms
Left and Right were coined after the revolution of 1789), the United Kingdom,
the United States and all the other democratic countries whose political makeup
includes a Left and a Right.
One result of the unique Israeli case is
that unlike the free world’s political setup, it does not have a political
framework for economic and social reform.
The main distinction between
the leftist Labor and rightist Likud parties is that the former is much more
flexible on the territorial issue than the latter.
There was good reason
to expect Labor’s priorities to change when Shelly Yacimovich became its leader
in September, but the outspoken concern she expressed for the wide gap that
exists here between the high and low income brackets ahead of her election as
party leader was muted the moment she became its theoretical candidate for the
On the other hand, the Likud indeed has a significant
percentage of active unionists among its members, but they do not expect their
party to devote itself to the working class’s special interests. A case
in point is the controversy between the Histadrut labor federation and the
government of Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the hiring of
so-called “contract workers” (ovdei kablan
) at salaries far below the norm for
staff personnel and without any fringe benefits.
The leftists should have
gone to bat for the ovdei kablan, but like the rightists, they ignored their
In its overview of the ideological differences between the two
factions on the international scene, Wikipedia is explicit: “Left-wing values
include the belief in the power of human reason to achieve progress, secularism,
sovereignty exercised by the legislature, social justice and mistrust of strong
personal leadership. The Right’s concern is with anti-clericalism, unrealistic
social reforms, doctrinaire socialism and class hatred.”
of the unique Israeli definition of Left and Right can also be seen in the fact
that the grassroots movement for social justice that emerged last summer was not
endorsed or adopted by any of the country’s political parties – not even by
Labor or Meretz, which are commonly regarded as left-wing parties.
also fair to say that Israel’s leftists have not been involved in the minuscule
effort to help families whose resort to makeshift tent colonies is due to their
lack of money to pay for decent housing.
Nor have they been acting
effectively to narrow the shockingly wide income gap that separates the affluent
from the indigent here – something about which all Israelis should be ashamed.
The ultra-wealthy 1 percent of the population, including the so-called tycoons
and their offspring, continue to enjoy maximal creature comforts and diversions
such as lavish travel abroad while the lower third of the population can hardly
make ends meet.
The time has come for Israel to get its priorities
Instead of ostensible endorsement of the “two-state solution” to
the dispute with the Palestinians, which is and will continue to be a
non-starter as long as the Gaza Strip is ruled by the extremist Hamas
organization and probably even after Hamas’s demise (if this ever occurs), the
leftists should change their orientation and focus on the overall Israeli
population’s needs. One of their highest priorities should be improvement of the
Arab population’s standard of living and a campaign for an end to ethnic and
religious discrimination in the employment sector, especially regarding the
Israeli Arabs’ right to a fair share of government jobs at all
There is no moral or ethical justification for the Left’s
obsession about territorial concessions or compromise in the West Bank. Nor
should the Right give unlimited support for Jewish settlements there regardless
of the local Palestinians’ legal rights, especially to land ownership, while
ignoring the demographic tensions this tactic generates.
An Israeli shift
to the international definition of Left and Right might transform the
unsuccessful quest for social justice on a national scale into a feasible and
universally accepted objective.The writer is a veteran foreign