Regarding the “New Israeli Left” manifest

Posted: September 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I was in Berlin last week, so I missed most of the debate on the “New Israeli Left” manifest published by playwriter Shmuel Hasfari and political consultant and attorney Eldad Yaniv. When I got back, so many people around me were talking about the interview Hasfari and Yaniv gave in Haaretz, so I sat down to read it (the interview, not the 83 pages long manifest).

To be honest, I didn’t know Hasfari and Yaniv cared so much for the future of the left. In fact, I never thought they were part of the left. Hasfari flirted for a while with activism, but was and still is a mainstream writer, and his latest success, TV surprise hit “Polishook”, was a middle-of-the-road political satire, mush less radical than any Friday night show. As for Yaniv, he was known mostly as Ehud Barak’s close adviser, until the partnership broke a few years ago, and Yaniv started speaking everywhere against his old boss, which is a common tendency among people who worked with Barak. The last thing I remember from Yaniv is an interview with him in which he said that being called “a snake” is a compliment. Now he and Hasfari are tring to explain what’s wrong with the Israeli Left. 

Here is a taste:

Q: Basically you are saying that army service – preferably combat duty, meaningful duty – is a condition for being a leftist.

Yaniv: “Every leftist should be the first to go to the army… We were always at the front. It can’t be any other way. We leftists will always need to pay a higher price because we are more sensitive to our duties to the community.”

Q: You argue that civil rights should be bound up with civil obligations. You’re anti-liberal.

Yaniv: “That statement is really not simple. It is very, very illiberal. But what can you do when the State of Israel is illiberal? This is a democratic Jewish state. This is not an ordinary democracy. This is a democracy in which there is discrimination that favors Jews.”

Q: Civil rights are a fundamental, universal, unconditional value.

Hasfari: “We live in the same society, in the same entity. So if you won’t give, you won’t receive. If you give the minimum, I’ll also give you the minimum. You won’t get an allowance.

“…When I see the flag raised to the top of the pole between Memorial Day and Independence Day, I get emotional. Because this flag is us. This flag is ours. It is not David’s and not Abraham’s and not Maimonides’. It’s our flag. We drew it with our own hands, and in my view, ‘Hatikva’ is the most beautiful national anthem in the world. The beautiful, melancholic music of ‘Hatikva.’ That evocative, semi-sad music, full of hope and yearning. And its wonderful text. ‘Hatikva’ is me, it is part of me.”

Q: But ‘Hatikva’ excludes one-fifth of Israel’s citizens, who cannot sing “the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart.”

Hasfari: “I’m not demanding that any Arab stand to attention and sing when ‘Hatikva’ is played, but Israel is not a nation of all its citizens. There is a country here that was established to be a Jewish state, and the anthem reflects the aim of its establishment. I am not ashamed of that, but proud of it.”

Q: I listen to you both and have reached the conclusion that you are not rightist, because you want to end the occupation and get out of the territories. But you are really not liberal left, either. You are nationalists of the Green Line.

Hasfari: “Green Line nationalists sounds fine to me. I am not apologetic about my country, about its borders or the Green Line, which has been recognized by the entire world. This is where I live, this is my country. Green Line nationalists? I’ll accept that, absolutely. Sign me up.”

If you missed it, you can read the full interview in English here.

Well, if I have to give some advise to the political adviser and his friend the playwriter, it will be to avoid referring all the time to their initiative as a “national left” and a “socialist left”, or at least not to do it at the same time. As Ari Shavit – who interviewed them and generally made life easy for the two, probably because he shares most of their ideas – pointed out, put together, the two phrases create an extremely problematic name for the new movement.

But this is not just a matter of words and slogans. If you read the whole interview, you see that Hasfari and Yaniv dream of a Left without Liberalism; a society in which civil rights are based on one’s contribution for “the greater good”, and most notably, on the military service (and not on the idea that as members of society we are entitled for those rights); and a state that favors Jews, for start on symbolic matters like the anthem (and probably on other issues as well), “because that’s what the state was established for.”

Reading their ideas, I wonder again why was it so important for Yaniv and Hasfari to classify themselves as part of the Left. They could have just joined Liberman’s Israeli Beitenu and be done with it. They might have had a few disagreements with the rest of the party the economy, but that’s shouldn’t be a too big problem. Especially not for Yaniv, who represents some of Israel’s richest people, among them the Ofer Brothers, Dudi Apel (who was suspected in bribing PM Ariel Sharon), Michael Chernoy (Liberman’s close friend, who is involved in a corruption investigation with him), and the notorious “Hashmira” company, known for its violation of employees’ rights (most of them earning minimum wage or less). Indeed, the future of the Israeli left couldn’t have been more promising.

As for Yaniv and Hasfari’s basic complaint, that the left in Israel is unpatriotic and that it should put the emphasis on “national” ideas, even nationalistic (it’s their term, not mine) – well, is that really what we lack in Israel? When an overwhelming majority votes for the right, and for pseudo-right like Kadima? Do they really feel that what the Israeli society needs now is less self-criticism? Could we be less critical of ourselves, in a week when Israel rejects the Goldstone report regarding operation Cast Lead on the claim the investigation was biased and that the Israeli side wasn’t well represented, and on the same time refuses to investigates the matters itself, or even cooperate with any kind on investigation, external or internal? Does it makes someone less Left, or less Israeli, if he is ashamed in some of the things his country did, or still does? Is that what we are missing here today, blind nationalism? Were have those two been living in the last decade?

To me, I think that Hasfari and Yaniv are just tired of being on the losing side, and are interested – like former media man and writer Dr. Gadi Taub or writer Irit Linor, and many other self proclaimed ex-leftists before them – in joining the nationalistic fiesta. And in order not to come in both late and empty handed to the party, they produce another of those attacks on the self-hating-Jews, to the cheers of the crowd. Ok, enjoy it while it lasts.

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Jacques Brel, the greatest French speaking singer ever, used to mock the nationalistic tendencies of his Flemish brothers and praise the bi-national Belgium. In 1977 he wrote the song “Les Flamingants“, in which he described those of his people who believe that patriotism is the most important virtue in a man. Here it is, dedicated to our very own newly born patriots:


3 Comments on “Regarding the “New Israeli Left” manifest”

  1. 1 Aviv said at 11:43 am on September 18th, 2009:

    The left has a lot to offer on domestic policy. Its foreign policy, though, has failed. A lot of Israelis reached the conclusion that leftist foreign policy consists of Israel bending over backwards for terrorists.

    I have read neither the interview nor the manifesto, but it seems Eldad and Hasfari are trying to combine the best of both words.

  2. 2 noam said at 12:05 pm on September 18th, 2009:

    Regarding foreign policy: I believe that the left’s way never stood for a real test, but that’s a different argument. But in most of the internal debate Yaniv and Hasfari also take the Right’s approach, most notably regarding the Arab Israelis. That leads me to my basic point – if on the major issues, Yaniv and Hasfari came to realize that the Left was wrong, why not join the Right? Why the insistence on being treated as leftists?

  3. 3 tamar said at 8:28 am on September 19th, 2009:

    During this season of intentional reflection and renewal in the Jewish community, your voice resonates with Isaiah’s in this morning’s Rosh Hashana reading — a plea for our compassion, inclusiveness, and humility.

    שנה טובה