The Downfall of the Left

Posted: November 17th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: The Left | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Haaretz daily paper ran a special feature [in Hebrew] this weekend on the collapse of the Israeli left wing. The two major left parties, Labor and Meretz, are expected to get between 15 and 20 MKs together (out of 120) in the general election on February 10th. It will be an all time low: this coalition (under different party names) ruled Israel since it’s independence in 1948 till 1977, and was almost always part of all governments since.
As recently as 1992, Labor and Meretz got 56 seats together, and were able to form the second Rabin government. For better or for worst, it was these political forces which built this country. So what went so wrong?

Most political analysts blame Ehud Barak, which anything but lost control over the party. Important MKs are leaving the Labor on a daily bases, placing the blame on Barak’s centralist style of leadership and poor human relations. On the same time, some prominent intellectuals and writers who supported the party for years are now publicly endorsing Meretz, declaring that Barak, with his capitalistic and somewhat hawkish views, can not represent the left wing.
Haaretz’s Yossi Verter says Barak is practically doomed. Sima Kadmon, from “Yedioth Ahronoth”, wrote similar things this past Friday and so did Ofer Shelach in Maariv [in Hebrew].
But tempting as it may be, one can’t put all the blame on Barak. Over the years, Labor and Meretz failed miserably in staying relevant to most of the Israeli public. They didn’t manage winning the support of the Russian immigrants, which make for some 15 percent of the population. They weren’t able to heal the relations with the Sephardic Jews, who were patronized and discriminated for years ( actually, when Sephardic union man, Amir Peretz, was elected to lead Labor in the previous election, polls showed that about a quarter of the party’s supporters chose to vote for Kadima or even Meretz), and they didn’t even try integrating the Arabs into their ranks. Even when Labor was in power, the non-Zionist Arab parties were left out of the government. It was only PM Ehud Olmert from Kadima who appointed the first Arab minister – as late as 2007, 59 years after the state was born.
Arabs account for 20 percent of the population in Israel. By failing to connect with them, Labor and Meretz lost who could have been their most faithful supporters.
In 2008, Labor and Meretz are the parties of secular Ashkenazim, mainly from the Tel Aviv and Haifa area. And there are simply not that many of them.

There was a melancholic tone to the latest articles describing the fall of the left, almost as if this meant an end to the peace process or to social-democratic ideas. I believe this can’t be farther from the truth, and that the inevitable defeat in the coming election (and it is inevitable) will actually present the left with some real opportunities for the first time in years.
The peace process and the two states solution are almost consensus in Israel by now. Kadima is promoting them, and even Netanyahu and Liberman are talking about the need to make some concessions. The death of the Labor or Meretz won’t be the death of the peace process.
What it does mean is the death of some of the old problems of these parties. Like the separation between Zionist and non-Zionist politics in the left. Nobody will admit to it, but this issue doesn’t carry any relevant political implications, and only seperates between Arans and Jews on the left. We don’t need to solve theis problem – we need to change the question.
The left also needs to be able to form coalitions – and later on, full political integration – with different groups in the Israeli society. Arabs, Russians, religious-conservatives, Sephardic Jews. These coalitions can’t be based on the ideals that the Zionist left has embraced for the past two decades, like free market capitalism and individual rights.
If some sort of multi-cultural, social-democratic model should rise from the ashes of the old Zionist-left, maybe its death won’t be in vain.

Update: I wrote this post over the weekend. Since then, a new left-wing movement was formed. Its leaders, veterans of Labor administrations, intellectuals and politicians, want to re-build the left around Meretz and its new leader, Haim Oron. While Meretz might gain a few MKs from the Labor’s downfall, I don’t believe it can renew itself enough to draw support from voters of other parties.

2 Comments on “The Downfall of the Left”

  1. 1 Maoz said at 3:16 pm on November 18th, 2008:

    Two remarks:
    1. Another reason for Labor’s fall is actually Amir Peretz – many old zionists couldn’t vote for a sephardic, and chose instead to vote for Kadima.
    2. Regarding the Arab vote – Both Labor and Meretz need to be considered a part of the Israeli concensus; in this case, to be taken as Zionists. Their partial identification with Arabs might have caused them to lose more votes to the center and right.

  2. 2 noam said at 3:51 pm on November 18th, 2008:

    i don’t think Labor and Meretz can lose amny more votes. the left has all but vanished, so this is the time to try some new ideas – like ridding ourselves from the separation between “zionist” and “non-zionist” left wing.