Alas, poor Labor, we knew you well…
Now and then you did positively excel,
But oftentimes you put us through hell.
In all, it was your own fault you fell.
The Labor Party’s demise has been only a matter of time for a long time. It was an eminently avertable atrophy, yet for decades the party mulishly rendered itself incurable. It not only refused to acknowledge the causes of its terminable condition but actually persisted in exacerbating them.
It was one thing if feverish delirium impeded objective self-assessment, but then Labor’s own coup de grace administrator, Ehud Barak, spelled the cause of the party’s fatal decrepitude so unmistakably. Labor, he said as he delivered the decisive deathblow, had veered too far leftward, dabbled in postmodernism, and dallied on the brink of post-Zionism.
We couldn’t have pinpointed the pathogen more precisely. But this leaves us with a crucial carp: If Barak is such a brilliant diagnostician, why didn’t he forewarn the patient, why didn’t he take preventive measures in real time, why did he abet Labor’s self-destructiveness and actually help magnify it? It’d be disingenuous to perceive Barak as anything but part of Labor’s problem, the enabler of its disgraceful disintegration.
There is no denying that Labor is Kadima’s direct victim. Parasitic Kadima didn’t bite into the Likud, but it devoured the Left. That said, Labor had already been steadily declining for a long while. Its hotshots, Barak included, refused to honestly address what made them such easy prey to Kadima’s predations.
For one thing, Labor, though claiming to be socialist, alienated the common man. This transcended the fact that Labor paradoxically became the party of big business, of 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 insightful. They see right through the hypocrisy.
Indeed the commoners’ estrangement from Labor’s preachy elites wasn’t just on pocketbook issues. The proletariat Laborites profess to represent is patriotic and retains commonsense self-preservation instincts. The jet-setters 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 dissolution. 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) remained unrepentant, as if deliberately doing its darndest to achieve irrelevance and turn its face backward. Labor bloody-mindedly grated against the masses’ underlying intuitions, which survive despite the left-dominated media’s shrill cacophony. Failure to realize this marginalized Labor and left it to vie with Meretz for the same mini-constituency.
Labor neglected to put the Jewish connection to the Jewish homeland atop its agenda. It wasn’t obliged to espouse the ideals of the Eretz Yisrael Movement (which ironically arose from Labor’s own ranks following the Six Day War) or to avoid pragmatic remedies. But it shouldn’t have painted Jews in Judea as occupiers.
Labor could have insisted on Jewish rights as vehemently and passionately as David Ben-Gurion sincerely did, even as he countenanced territorial compromise when that seemed the sole alternative. When consenting to the pre-state 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 additional land liberated in the War of Independence which the Arabs forced on Israel.
And Ben-Gurion didn’t agree to partition jubilantly. On July 15, 1937, while recommending partition, he wrote: “The Jewish people 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 relinquish 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, despite 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.”
Today’s Laborites failed to enunciate the same sentiments as forthrightly, as genuinely, as unambiguously and as proudly as Ben-Gurion had, and hence couldn’t win back people’s hearts. Labor’s bungling radicals-cum-apparatchiks left their once-great party as lifeless as Yorick.