If you look at the leaders who founded the State of Israel, you will find that most of them were socialists, Zionists who strove to implement the socialist ideology of the Left in the fledgling Jewish state. David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Berl Katznelson and other prominent leaders and thinkers were all socialists. Moreover, the majority of the olim (immigrants to Israel) who came before the official founding of the State of Israel in 1945 were socialists or even communists. Accordingly, socialism was the predominant ideology in Israel’s early years.
The general election that took place November 1 demonstrated how far Israel has moved from those early years. In this election, the Labor Party won only four out of 120 seats in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. Its sister party, Meretz, which is considered slightly more Left than the Labor Party, failed to cross the electoral threshold and was erased from the political map. The two parties that purport to represent the center Left, Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party, do not advance socialism or any of the values of the classic Left, leaving socialism without any prominent advocates. The Left, it seems, has left.
Indeed, there is no Left in Israel. No one is fighting for the rights or the well-being of blue-collar workers, the proletariat; no one is fighting for free education, for free and decent health-care, or equitable housing; and no one is fighting even for food security for the disadvantaged. Israel has become a capitalist state, and those who claim to speak for the Left and for the workers are even more capitalist than those who portray themselves openly as capitalists. All that is left of the Left is empty slogans that no one believes. This is why so few voted for parties that profess to represent it.
The Left deserves credit for its significant, even essential role in the establishment of the State of Israel. Although the countrywide institutions that the Labor Party founded—the trade union, healthcare services, consumer cooperative, housing construction company, civil engineering company—were monopolies that controlled everything that happened here, they truly built the Jewish state. However, they also secured the political dominance of the Labor Party for decades. I remember that Shimon Peres once said that as long as the Labor Party has Kupat Holim (the healthcare company), they will remain in power.
The problem was that in the end, the ideology became a tool for what the Labor really wanted: power and control. As it happens in every country where the Left is in power, in Israel, too, the ideology fell prey to power-hunger. Human nature is stronger than any ideology, and in the absence of a balancing power, an idea that aims to improve people’s lives becomes a tool for tyranny. The Left’s arrogance and illusion of invincibility eventually caused its decay and ultimate demise.
At the same time, the disappearance of the Left caused the Right to disappear, as well. In the absence of a counter-ideology, there was no need to maintain and hone the ideology of the Right, and it, too, became amorphous and dissolved. What remains of the two worldviews is only tactical approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I think there will be no revival to these ideologies, at least not in Israel. The decline will continue until we realize that we should not divide society at all because society is indivisible, and any attempt to do it only causes hatred.
Eventually, the Israeli people will realize that only one ideology can dominate the people of Israel: unity above all differences. That was the idea that prompted our ancestors to establish our nationhood, and this is our root, the core of our nation. When we return to it, we will find unity, peace, and recognition from the world.
Israel should not be divided into parties. Anything that contains the word “part” is inherently wrong for the people of Israel. The dominant word for us must be “unity,” and any effort to promote unity and nationwide solidarity will improve our situation and receive the world’s support. This should be our one and only focus.
BERL KATZENELSON (National Photo Collection of Israel, Public Domain)