Democracy needs balance

It is about time that the Left understands that the Oslo Accords failed, and it is time for a comprehensive reorganization and re-thinking.

June 19, 2019 12:11
3 minute read.
Democracy needs balance

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu, with Avigdor Liberman in the row behind him, sits in the Knesset on May 29, the night MKs voted to go to new elections.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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For the past decade, Israel has been led by one party: the Likud.

In three consecutive terms of the Knesset (or four, if you count the 28 days of the current one), Israel had almost the same coalition: the Likud, along with the religious Right (National Union, Bayit Yehudi), the center (Kadima, Yesh Atid and Kulanu), and for two of the three, the ultra-Orthodox parties joined the coalition as well.

If nothing dramatic happens in the next three months, the coalition that will be formed in the 22nd Knesset will look the same.

However, a functioning democracy needs a real, active opposition and an ideological rival to give the voter a choice.

For many years, there were two main powers competing for the leadership in Israel: the Labor party, leading the Left, and the Likud, leading the Right.

But since the late 1990s, it seems that the Israeli Left lost its track, and after the failure of the Oslo Accords and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, it has provided no coherent ideology that would attract voters on the one hand, and be a challenge to the Israeli Right on the other.

The peak of this trend was seen in the April 9 election to the 21st Knesset, when the shrinking Left received only 11 seats out of 120: six to the Labor party, and five to Meretz.

Yet this measurement is inaccurate. Is the Labor party actually left-wing? In an interview with Channel 12 News in July 2017, Labor leader Avi Gabbay avoided giving a specific answer.

“I don’t like definitions,” he said, and throughout the past two years sent mixed messages regarding the political leaning of his party.

Near the end of the recent campaign, Gabbay started identifying as Left, but it seemed that he did so as a strategy to separate himself from Blue and White – a party that runs away from any definition or ideology, and which has multiple voices that does not allow the voter to know or understand its political leaning and what are its plans after the election.

And this is the bottom line in the political discourse in Israel: since the Left lost its way, it tries – as a declared strategy – to “steal votes from the Right,” and in order to do so it tries to be Right in disguise.

Gabbay did it himself when he repeated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outrageous statement from 1996 that “the Left forgot what it means to be Jewish,” and when he said that he opposes evicting settlers from the West Bank in order to achieve peace – which might be a legitimate stance, but it is not Left.

Stav Shaffir, Gabbay’s possible successor, said that if she wins the party primary, the Labor party would be “the spearhead of the democratic camp…” When asked why she isn’t willing to explicitly say that her party is Left, Shaffir said that “the term Right and Left means nothing in today’s political discourse in Israel.”

But unlike the known slogan of Blue and White, there is Right and Left in Israel, and the public was exposed to – and was convinced – by the ideas of the Right.

It is about time that the Left understands that the Oslo Accords failed, and it is time for a comprehensive reorganization and re-thinking.

One suggestion for recreating the Israeli Left could be to start looking for moderate Arab partners within Israel. There are many Arab voters who do not agree with either one of the three options given them by the so-called Arab parties – the communists (Hadash); the nationalists (Balad); and the Islamists (Ra’am). The silent Arab majority can be the key to create a new, improved and relevant “peace bloc” that would also give hope to a joint Israeli-Palestinian future.

But not only peace – the new Left should voice a strong objection to the dominant trends within the current coalition in matters such as the Rabbinate monopoly in many of our life aspects; public transportation on Saturdays; inequality of citizens; political corruption; and the failing health system.

Not only will the Left gain when Israel will have two main alternatives, but also the Right. When the political discourse will again revolve around ideology, political feuds will be over values and not around chairs.

Only then will Israeli democracy have its balance, as in days gone by.

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