Only the re-emergence and significant empowering of the Zionist Left can save Israel and ensure that Israel really will be the democratic nationstate of the Jewish People and all of its citizens. Israel today is on a collision course set by its own lack of ability to define its internal balance and identity along the Jewish-democracy axis. The continued legislation by Israel’s right-wing governments over the past decades is tilting the scales against democracy and in favor of Israel’s Jewishness in a way that will soon determine that Israel is in fact not a democracy or at least not one that fits in the club of Western liberal democracies that form the OECD nations.
The newly proposed Jewish nation-state bill, unanimously supported by the government’s legislation committee, is only the latest legislative initiative to shift the delicate balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic identities. The continuation of the occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now 50 years old and running, is the primary and fundamental threat to Israel’s democratic and Jewish identity. Israel’s Right is unable to end the occupation, as it has proven far beyond doubt. The pressures within Israel’s right wing to push the Jewish identity of Israel at the expense of its democracy not only disadvantages the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are not Jewish and who identify as part of the Palestinian people, yet also see themselves as citizens in a democratic Israel, but also impact deeply on the perception of Israel among its friends and foes alike. The continuation of right-wing rule in Israel will lead to nothing less than a new form of apartheid.
Israel’s so-called Center parties – the Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog, Kulanu by Moshe Kahlon and Yesh Atid by Yair Lapid have largely adopted political platforms and strategies mirroring Israel’s Right in support of the so-called “security first” paradigm – each trying to gain favor by presenting itself as a better, more refined, cleaner version of Israel’s Right. They contribute to the continuation of Israel’s decline into bi-nationalism. Their paradigm of “us here and them there” fosters the illusion that we have no partner for peace and never will have one. They provide no solution for Israel’s future and only seek to make the impossible reality last longer with less moral pain.
Until now, the lack of a credible, clear Zionist-Left democratic leadership with integrity has led to the strengthening of the non-defined, wishy-washy center, but with little real content in terms of policies that will save Israel from the Right. All of the so-called centralists seek to jump in bed with the Right and hold on to their ministerial seats, enriching themselves and their narrow constituencies.
Israel’s problem has been the lack of credible alternatives, both in policies and in personalities. Israel’s Zionist Left needs a new leadership, dedicated to the values of the founders and expressed so well in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Israel does not need a new law to define itself as the national home of the Jewish People. That has been determined by an 80% majority of Jews within the green line. That new law proposed by the Netanyahu government is only necessary if Israel plans to annex the West Bank and leave the millions of Palestinians living there as non-citizens, without political rights. This is the law that is intended to put the final nail in Israel’s democratic identity. This strategy will lead to the end of Israel as the democratic nationstate of the Jewish People. This is the time when new leaders must rise to carry the flag.
A new Zionist Left leadership must emerge and realign Israel’s political map to enable all of those who believe that Israel must truly be the democratic nationstate of the Jewish People, and at the same time also be the democratic state of all of its citizens. With clearly defined lines of cleavage between Israel’s democratic camp, made up of the Zionist Left and Israel’s Palestinian citizens, and that of Israel’s right-wing “all of the land of Israel” camp, the Israeli voting public will have a real opportunity to determine Israel’s identity and future. A united democratic front dedicated to the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People and all of its citizens against the right-wing annexationists who will bury Israel with a Palestinian majority between the River and the Sea and by natural extension of that a final death blow to democracy with two formalized separate legal regimes – one in control and the other under control – this is the formula urgently needed to change course and save Israel.
Will the Labor Party leadership primary produce the new leader? It is difficult to tell. One candidate has stood out in the presentation of courage and integrity combined with a real vision for peace with Israel’s neighbors and a commitment to building a shared society within Israel between the Jewish and Palestinian citizens of this country. Erel Margalit is a person with a proven track record of real achievements that have helped to build Israel’s economy and to share the wealth with the periphery of Israel’s society. There are other good people with integrity in the Labor Party, such as Amir Peretz, who are committed to peace, but Peretz had a chance to lead Labor already – perhaps it is time to give someone new a chance.
I am not a member of Labor, so I will not be voting in its primaries. The outcome of those internal elections could have a powerful impact on the redefining of Israel’s political map. My hope is that from those elections we will begin to create a new force that will lead Israel forward to peace and to a shared society. We must put an end to the divisions created by the Right which incites against groups of citizens who do not share its ultra-nationalist fantasies.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives www.ipcri.org.