The requiem for Labor is premature. Labor isn’t terminally decrepit. Nevertheless, its demise is inevitable if it fails to save itself from itself.
What’s at stake isn’t merely Labor’s misfortune but that of our entire body politic, which must be able to count on two responsible mainstream alternatives. Kadima – an opportunistic concoction without a weighty past, a promising future or any true adhesive to bind its cynical melange of expedient self-seekers – isn’t one.
Labor is Kadima’s latest victim. Parasitic Kadima didn’t bite into the Likud but it devoured the Left. That said, Labor wasn’t just temporarily harmed. It had been steadily declining throughout the decade and won’t get back to what it once was until its hotshots first understand what made them such easy prey to Kadima’s predations.
Obviously a party claiming to be socialist cannot afford to alienate the common man. This transcends the fact that Labor has paradoxically become the party of big business, of the millionaires and billionaires and their emulators who aspire to sidestep pesky Jewish travails and struggles, live high on the hog and pretend they’re in Davos all year round. Belittled plebeians are uncannily perceptive. They see right through the hypocrisy.
Indeed, the commoners’ estrangement from Labor’s preachy elites isn’t just on pocketbook issues. The proletariat Laborites profess to represent is patriotic and retains commonsense self-preservation instincts. The jetsetters hadn’t entirely debilitated the basic existential logic of regular folks – once the hallmark of Labor under its mutating monikers.
What started out as Poalei Zion (Zion’s Workers) and became Mapai (Hebrew acronym for Workers Party of Eretz Yisrael) eventually opted to ditch all reference to Zion or the Land of Israel. Thus Labor began losing its soul. The 1977 upheaval that brought the Likud to power gave further impetus to Labor’s psycho-political disintegration. Shimon Peres, isolated after his electoral defeat, became Yossi Sarid’s and Yossi Beilin’s virtual captive. Far to his left, both eventually meandered to Meretz, yet at the time the Yossis became Peres’s sole sounding-boards and filters to the outside world.
Transformed, Peres later brazenly hoodwinked his party into the Oslo fiasco but the party (which he ultimately abandoned for Kadima’s allure) remains unrepentant, as if deliberately doing its darnedest to achieve irrelevance and turn its face backward to avoid today’s reality. If anything, Labor’s excesses flirt with post-Zionism.
David Ben-Gurion, Labor’s greatest leader, must have spun in his grave when education minister Yuli Tamir (of Labor) included the Nakba (Arabic for calamity – the Arab propaganda-loaded synonym for Israeli independence) in the Jewish state’s school curriculum. Intuitively that grates against ordinary Israelis’ sense of justice.
Labor will never regain its standing of old until it again acknowledges this mass sentiment, which survives despite the Left-dominated media’s shrill cacophony. Failure to realize that will marginalize Labor and leave it to vie with Meretz for the same mini-constituency.
IF LABOR FORGETS to put the Jewish connection to the Jewish homeland atop its agenda, it’ll be lost. This doesn’t oblige it to espouse the ideals of the Eretz Yisrael movement (which ironically arose from its own ranks following the Six Day War). It needn’t avoid pragmatic remedies, but it mustn’t paint Jews in Judea as occupiers.
Labor must be as vehemently and passionately insistent on our rights as Ben-Gurion sincerely was, even though he countenanced territorial compromise when that seemed the sole alternative. When consenting to the partition plan that left embryonic Israel in an untenable puny patchwork, he gave up what wasn’t then in his possession. Yet subsequently Ben-Gurion resolutely hung on to land liberated in the bloody War of Independence which the Arabs foisted upon Israel.
And he didn’t agree to partition jubilantly. On July 15, 1937, while recommending partition, he wrote: “The Jewish people have always regarded, and will continue to regard the whole of Eretz Yisrael as a single country which is theirs in a national sense and will become theirs once again. No Jew will accept partition as a just and rightful solution.”
Soon afterward, he told the 20th Zionist Congress: “No Jew is entitled to give up the right of the Jewish nation to the land. It is not in the authority of any Jew or of any Jewish body; it is not even in the authority of the entire nation alive today to give up any part of the land… Even if, at any point, Jews choose to decline it, they have no right to deprive future generations of it. Our right to the entire land exists and stands forever.”
This isn’t about territorial divisions but about the enduring link, the collective memory that binds us and returned us here. Ben-Gurion knew that the Jewish people didn’t surrender its link to its geographic cradle during two millennia of unimaginable persecution. That the sovereign Jewish state should weaken, if not altogether break that link would have been unthinkable under Ben-Gurion’s Mapai, for all its manifold faults.
What is nationhood, after all, if not collective memory? Ben-Gurion knew it well. Testifying before UNSCOP in 1947, he noted: “Three hundred years ago, a ship called the Mayflower left for the New World… This was a great event in the history of England and America. But I would like to know: Is there a single Englishman who knows the exact date and hour of the Mayflower‘s launch? How much do American children – or grown-ups – know about this historic trip? Do they know how many people were in the boat? Their names? What they wore? What they ate? Their path of travel? What happened to them on the way? Where they landed?
“More than 3,300 years before the Mayflower set sail, the Jews left Egypt. Any Jewish child, whether in America or Russia, Yemen or Germany, knows that his forefathers left Egypt at dawn on the 15th of Nisan. What did they wear? Their belts were tied and their staffs were in their hands. They ate matzot, and arrived at the Red Sea after seven days.
“He knows the path of their journey… The child can even quote the family names from the Torah. Jews worldwide still eat matza for seven days from the 15th of Nisan, and retell the story of the Exodus, concluding with the fervent wish, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem.’ This is the nature of the Jewish people.”
Until we hear today’s Laborites enunciate the same sentiments as forthrightly, as genuinely, as unambiguously and as proudly as Ben-Gurion did, they won’t win back the people’s hearts. Until Labor retreats from the post-Zionist brink and retakes the Zionist high ground, it’ll continue losing ground. That’d be a tragic shame because a viable Labor is vital for Israeli democracy. Labor deserves to be rescued from its own bungling radicals-cum-apparatchiks.
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