The Israeli Left Lives

The next time you hear that the Israeli left, liberal Zionism, or the two state solution is dead, I challenge you to challenge that, stand up to the naysayers and take a stance for peace. For the Israeli left may be down, but they’re certainly not out. 


The talk of the town since the end of this summer’s Gaza War has been this vague notion that the Israeli left is dead, and there is no civil discourse left in Israeli society. Whether it came from Mairav Zonszein’s New York Times op-ed “How Israel Silences Dissent”, or a variety of articles written by international and Israeli left wing authors such as Haaretz’s own Gideon Levy. While watching from the sidelines of the university scene in the United States and watching the settlements dig deeper into the West Bank, crowds of Jews running through the streets of Jerusalem shouting “death to Arabs”, or the government’s general reaction to the riots breaking out within Israeli Arab towns and villages—one starts to wonder if the cynics are right. Thankfully, with the help of Partners for Progressive Israel, I am having an experience to learn otherwise.

At this year’s Israel Symposium we have already met with a variety of leaders of the Israeli peace camp — including Meretz leader Zehava Gal’on, MK Nitzan Horowitz, Haaretz’s chief editor Aluf Benn — and attended a panel on human rights in the Occupied Territories. With topics ranging from ending the occupation, to the formation of a center-left government after the next election, the atmosphere is rewarding for someone with a deep love for Israel, yet strong concern over its current policies. While some may doubt it, or try to undermine it, most left-wing Israelis work hard everyday to create a better future and preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Especially as a J Street U leader, I find the work on the ground being undertaken by B’tselem, Peace Now, and the Meretz party as encouraging, and a sign of a deeper connection between us and Israeli society — one more founded in reality and fact, than the fantasy Israel touted today by many in the United States. Whether portrayed as demon, or the messiah, both depictions are inaccurate and work to only worsen the situation for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Now how can the peace camp thrive? At a time where Bennett is soaring through the polls, and Labor’s Buji Herzog has been unable to pick up any traction, things may look bleak. But the truth is there is so much more to Israeli society then what first meets the eye. Already many discussions in our group have centered on the status of Israeli Arabs and working to create a more hospitable society for them. Since Sayed Kashua left Israel this past summer I have partially been ashamed that the state of the Jewish people, a people who have suffered at the hands of others for nearly two millennia, would treat the stranger within their midst with such disregard, neglect and bigotry. Israeli Arabs (or Palestinian Israelis, whichever you prefer) have been marginalized and discriminated against since the state’s beginning. When asked about the situation for Israeli Arabs yesterday, Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal’on said Meretz was actively working to fight for civil equality within Israel, including integrating more Israeli Arabs into the political system and fighting for their right to express themselves politically which has been under attack as in the case of MK Haneen Zoabi. Today we will meet with MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al) at the Knesset, and I am certain he will have much to say about this.

But aside from all the gloom and doom, yesh atid [there is a future]. Israelis and Palestinians cannot continue to live with the status quo—whether it’s the fear of terrorist attacks, the cost of living, or the brutality of occupation and land expropriation which is affecting their everyday lives. Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors, for better or worse, and can’t afford to continue the endless cycle of violence that has defined both peoples’ lives for generations. To give up or demonize the other is fruitless and unproductive. The only way forward is through a two-state solution which grants the right of self-determination to both peoples, and allows each population who are sick of each other, a chance to settle down. If you care about Israelis, Palestinians, justice, human rights, or all or any of the above, I strongly urge for you to coordinate with the Israelis and Palestinians on the ground working to create a better reality. So the next time you hear that the Israeli left, liberal Zionism, or the two-state solution is dead, I challenge you to challenge that, take a stance for peace in anyway you can. For the Israeli left is not dead, but it could certainly use our help.

Josh Freedman is a graduating third year student at The Ohio State University, studying World Politics with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. He is an Israel Symposium scholarship recipient,  excited to extend his knowledge and leadership skills on this trip and to bring them back to school where he heads the J Street U chapter. Josh tweets at @jfreedman2009. 

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7 Comments on "The Israeli Left Lives"

  • Anonymous says

    Mr. Freedman,
    It’s too easy, and even a bit sophomoric, to ‘prove’ that the Israeli left ‘lives’ by taking the argument re its death so literally and then offering anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Of course there are leftists in Israel. No one doubts this. Probably about 10%-20% of the country, if you rely on the polls.

    But the ‘death question’ has never been about about whether there are people in Israel that American liberals can feel good about. It’s been about whether, given all that has changed in Israeli society in the last 1-2 generations, it is still conceivable for the Israeli left to rally a majority of the country behind its vision.

    Whether or not that’s the case, there’s nothing in this article to support that viewpoint. I’m sure the folks you’re talking to would agree that wishful thinking and self-congratulation don’t amount to a political strategy.

    AJ

  • Surely, the writer can be forgiven his enthusiasm. This has to be an exciting experience for a young person, or anyone, who admires the many voices for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. I envy him for having this opportunity to meet such people, and hope to hear much more from him in the coming days.

    • Lanette says

      What I find so innseretitg is you could never find this anywhere else.

    • I love that description of both of them. And oh my God if there is one statement I could never agree with more on your blog is this: ‘there’s no accounting for the magic that happens when you meet your match.’Truer than purest truth.

  • Anonymous says

    Youthful enthusiasm is very important and a key to political change, but that’s not the point here. The writer opens by (somewhat brashly) challenging readers to challenge him on the points he raises. Those points seemed thin and received a challenge. He also identifies himself as a representative of J Street, not just some young person, so one might expect a more strategic, rather than romanticized, approach. No one begrudges him having an exciting experience.

  • Anonymous says

    AJ,

    Hi I wrote this and I wanted to clear up a few things based on your comment. We practically agree. You say there’s 10-20% who are on the left in Israel I would say its a little higher but that’s neither here nor there (all depends on your definition of left). But I would ask you to read the last paragraph again. I’m not arguing their in a good position. I am arguing that there is no other acceptable future for either so we must work with the left we have not the left we dream of. The fact is they are there, the two state solution is still alive even if it has become more difficult. Hence the goal should not be complaining about our losses and move forward in anyway we can to help both peoples.

  • Anonymous says

    Mr. Freedman,
    To clarify: I took exception to your rhetorical device in which you relate to claims re the Israeli left’s death in an overly literal fashion in order to triumphantly proclaim its continued ‘life’. I thought that was a strawman that proved nothing.

    I agree that moaning and groaning about the left’s depletion is pointless. But what isn’t pointless is asking the question whether the Israeli left still has any potential to change the mindset of the Israeli majority. There’s scant little evidence that it does and if it doesn’t, then its actions are more sisyphic than heroic, I’d say, and new strategies are in order, ones that might actually make a difference.

    AJ

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