Analysis: With left shifting right, world finally catches up with Israel
AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File
Back in the old good days, the political scene in Israel was clear: the right was right, the left was left. Each camp had a leader and when they spoke, there was no room for confusion. The right was defined as “national camp”; the left as "peace camp.” Simple.
Not anymore. And a twist on the left last week made politics in Israel even more confusing when Avi Gabbay, the newly elected head of Labor party and the great hope of the "peace camp", made a surprising public declaration that he sees “no need to evacuate settlements in the West Bank if there is a peace deal.”
This is exactly what right wing leaders have been preaching for decades, and now Gabbay, officially leader of the left, seems to be speaking perfect rightist language.
Two days later, Zehava Galon, the undisputed icon of the left-wing Meretz party, resigned from the Knesset. Officially, this drastic move is supposed to facilitate an internal election in Meretz to make room for a greater diversity of voters. But political analysts say it might have the opposite effect.
Meretz is both the smallest party in the Knesset, and the only Zionist leftist party. In other words – Meretz may completely disappear in the next elections if it is unable to reach a higher electoral threshold.
If this is the case, Israel's political horizon will spread from center-right to far right only. In that sense, if not in any other, Israel is an average state these days.
Almost all over Europe and certainly in America, the left (while defined differently by each state) is either weakened or obsolete. The era of fear is also the era of the right-wing strongman leader who has stepped in spreading enough testosterone to calm that fear. There is Putin, there is Trump, and there is Netanyahu.
Experts warn this is certainly not the right time for politicians to use liberal terminology associated with the left. It projects weakness. The left has become something between "traitorous" to "ridiculous" or just plain irrelevant.
The left has certainly not been cast as the type to confront either real or perceived dangers and enemies lurking across the world. According to recent research conducted by Israel's Institute for Democracy, the left in Europe is at an all-time low. And so it is in Israel.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, leftist socialist parties have been practically wiped out in five European countries and are hardly surviving even in the traditionally liberal Scandinavian nations.
The process in Israel started even earlier where the term “left-wing” has an entirely different connotation, associated mainly with the vision of future territorial agreement with Palestinians – or lack of it.
Some sociologists, such as Tel Aviv University's Prof. Yehouda Shenhav, claim that true left never existed in Israel; it was a liberal party of human rights at best. Now, Shenhav says, even this terminology has been hijacked and distorted.
And finally, the world has caught up with Israel. In Europe the catalyst has not been about territory, as in Israel, but more so about migration. In both places, the common denominator is fear.
Analysts claim that the left has failed to adjust to new, changing world. It now competes with Sebastian Kurz, an-anti immigration millennial Chancellor in Austria, a right-wing nationalistic government in Poland, an even more radical right-wing in Hungary, and the first far-right party in Germany's Bundestag since WWII.
And it seems there is no end in sight. The Czech Republic on Saturday elected anti-establishment billionaire Andrej Babis, called "The Czech Trump", as Prime Minister, joining the club of leaders better adjusted to a fearful new world.
Babis' rhetoric closely mimics Trump's, with heavy anti-immigration themes in a country that has to date only accepted 12 of the over 2,500 refugees it had been assigned under a quota system introduced to deal with Europe's migrant crisis and with the fear of terrorism vastly greater than the actual threat of terrorism in the country. Sounds familiar. This is exactly what Poland's populist PIS ruling party played on, and it is only growing stronger day by day.
Xenophobia needs no strangers to thrive, just as anti-Semitism needs no Jews. This is not a fertile ground for the liberal left to grow. Neither is the soil of Israel.
The analogy already spills over from present to the future.
In Poland, for instance, 30 percent of voters aged 18 to 30 would vote PIS again, according to a poll conducted in September 2017. This is an even larger margin than voted for the party in the last 2015 election.
According to a in depth poll conducted earlier this year by the Israel chapter of the Friedrich Ebert political foundation, 67 percent of young Israelis aged 15 to 24 years old identified as politically "right-wing". Just like in Europe, Israel's left-oriented youth camp is shrinking, having failed to persuade them that they offer any true alternative to what the right is offering.
Like in Europe and America, Israel has its own “others” to be afraid of. From Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State, to African migrants and foreign workers. Israeli youth are growing up in a climate of real and imaginary fear, just as in Europe and America.
The biggest hope of the left everywhere, is actually the right. Only the future campaigns of the right can turn Israel's Labor party leader Avi Gabbay into dangerous leftist, or Meretz to a "radical Arab loving party". And that could work in the favor of the left, to a limited extent, by making it relevant simply by repeating how "dangerous" it is.
Lily Galili is a feature writer, analyst of Israeli society and expert on immigration from the former Soviet Union. She is the co-author of "The Million that Changed the Middle East."
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