The reactions of Labor Party members to protest movement co-leader Shikma Bressler’s statement regarding government officials reflect a blurring of positions and indicate the party’s distancing from its roots and from the State of Israel.
The current attitudes, unable to even condemn the harshest of statements, require a backward look at the party and its complete detachment from Israeli and Jewish norms. In this matter, it is interesting to reflect upon Yossi Beilin’s worldview, purposely from a place of ideological disputes. Beilin, deputy foreign minister under the leadership of Shimon Peres, took a significant and uncalculated risk when he advanced the Oslo Accords. He tried to change the static paradigm of a prolonged conflict with an agreement at any cost. He genuinely believed he was acting for the future and benefit of the State of Israel. Today, it is clear he was wrong.
Beilin’s perception of the political power centers is also complex and intriguing. In the 1980s, he identified liberal power, stemming from the Liberal Party, and looked to shorten the distance created between it and the Labor Party. Ultimately, the Liberal Party merged with the Freedom Party (Herut), becoming Likud.
Where did Labor lose its way?
The distance between Labor and liberalism was primarily religious and not ideological. There was a genuine attempt by the Labor Party to break free from the constraints of the religious establishment during the days of MAPAI (Workers Party of the Land of Israel), and the ideology of a free market suited this perception like a glove.
If you compare today’s Labor Party to that of Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, you’ll hardly recognize any significant similarities. Neither of them was religious, but they also didn’t distance themselves from Jewish symbols – as MKs Merav Michaeli and Naama Lazimi do at the helm of the party. Isaac Herzog was probably the last leader of the party with a connection to Jewish tradition, and this connection is likely more of an inheritance than a choice. It did not stand out during his tenure as party chairman. As president, it is more evident.
Instead of distancing themselves from outrageous statements – and there are indeed outrageous statements coming from all areas of the political spectrum from activists and public officials – the Labor Party has become a party devoid of public responsibility. Bressler’s statement, as a leader of the protests, is dreadful. It points to a loss of direction in the protest. It doesn’t have to become a major loss of direction for a historic and significant party.
Instead of condemning the statement, the chosen tactic was to attack the other side. Michaeli criticized the coalition instead of the statement. Alongside her, Lazimi defended Bressler against the allegations, with an accusation that does not provide any sympathy to any member of the other side of the dispute.
We need to be able to condemn statements that would have landed people in court in Germany today.
From all sides, at all levels of public discourse. It shouldn’t be a challenging task. Every single one of us should be able to identify the boundaries of the discourse. We should be able to argue fiercely but rationally – especially with those who disagree with us.
Labor Party members should also be able to do this as well. We must be capable of condemning those among us who show disrespect for the memory of the Holocaust no matter their political association. We must do so without fear and without hesitation. Otherwise, we are truly lost.
The writer is a media consultant and a social activist.