The decline and fall of Labor Zionism

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The election of Amram Mitzna to the leadership of the Labor Party has effectively marginalized the party and virtually destroyed its chances of winning the forthcoming elections. Even if the party gains a few Meretz votes its Knesset representation is likely to be significantly reduced.

Yet Labor still represents the alternative to Likud and it is a given that eventually the electorate will reject the ruling party. Thus no matter how outlandish Labor policies now appear, far from being irrelevant, its future direction will have enormous importance for Israel.

It is difficult to explain how the Labor Zionist movement of David Ben-Gurion, which occupied the central role in the creation of Israel and dominated the country for so long, underwent such revolutionary changes in a short time span.

It is astonishing that, at this time, Labor elected a leader who was a trail blazer for Gush Shalom – Mitzna having been one of the first senior military officers threatening not to serve in what he considered to be an unjust war in Lebanon. His mind-set about the Oslo Accords remains unchanged despite the ordeal the country has undergone during the past two years.

Even after the Americans gave up on Yasser Arafat, Mitzna announced that if elected he would immediately renew negotiations with the murderer from Ramallah. He also repeated the blunder of former prime minister Ehud Barak by committing himself to timetables that are probably unattainable.

Compared to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Mitzna was one of the boys – a former general with the “right” background and in contrast to his predecessor, highly articulate and blessed with an attractive personality.

But choosing Mitzna must still have been an act of desperation by the old Mapainiks and their allies, the Labor-oriented businessmen. After the disaster with Barak they already had firsthand experience of the consequences of electing a politically inexperienced leader. But in the absence of a more suitable candidate they felt they had no alternative.

The driving forces actively promoting the Mitzna election were the leftist party factions reinforced by radical fringe groups which had successfully promoted themselves to the mainstream and become more influential.

Like most socialist parties, Labor in Israel always included a sprinkling of unreconstructed Marxists and radical nihilists who hovered on the periphery of the party. As far back as the 1960s, tiny splinter groups like Matzpen, excluded from Labor, were promoting similar views to today’s Gush Shalom and their associates. Indeed until Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the forerunners of Meretz – Mapam and Hashomer Hatza’ir, the greatest political schizophrenics of all time – slavishly worshiped Stalin and the Soviet Union, denying that such behavior was inconsistent with a Zionist world outlook. Even after Mordechai Oren, one of their senior leaders, had been arrested by Czech communists on trumped-up espionage charges, Mapam supporters remained resolute in their faith.

Ben-Gurion was acutely aware of the danger of totalitarian Marxists infiltrating the party. He purged them from Mapai and continuously harassed them – especially Hashomer Hatza’ir, insisting that despite their constructive settlement activities, they were possessed by an alien anti-Zionist ideology.

A truly messianic adulation of communism and the Soviet Union were the hallmarks of communists and fellow travelers. Arthur Koestler’s books Darkness at Noon and The God that Failed illustrate the extent to which a powerful secular political faith was able to blind adherents to communism from reality and succeeded in mesmerizing well- meaning idealists into defending tyrants.

Some of them were even willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of Communist martyrdom by falsely confessing to utterly specious accusations of treason against themselves. One is tempted to bracket such fervor with religion but the fanaticism of even our most extreme religious nationalists pales in comparison to the dogmatism of these secular zealots.

Jewish communists also tended to behave brutally towards their own people, possibly a subconscious response to their blind commitment to universalism. Despite mounting evidence of anti- Semitism and Soviet crimes against the Jewish people, it was the non- Jews on the Left who were the first to speak up and protest. In contrast, despite agonized soul searching, the Jewish progressives tended to make excuses for the murderers of their people and many continued, to the end, to insist that the Soviet Union represented the only true paradise for Jews.

In the same vein, Jewish communists and their Israeli counterparts in Mapam and Hashomer Hatza’ir were the forerunners of the radical wings of Israel’s contemporary peace movement. Indeed, just like its former Soviet counterpart, the Israeli peace movement today tries to promote itself as the only true apostle of peace, dubbing as warmongers all who oppose it.

The techniques of groups like Gush Shalom are mirror images of the Soviet models who also exploited emotions associated with mothers and children by creating bodies like “Women in Black” and “Mothers against War” in order to further their interests under the guise of promoting peace. The communists also encouraged draft evasion in democratic countries and would undoubtedly have admired their Israeli counterparts for having dubbed Israeli draft dodgers as “refuseniks,” falsely bracketing them with former Soviet Jewish heroes who represented the absolute antithesis of everything Gush Shalom promotes.

How did people on the margins manage to assume such an important role in the Labor Party? The transformation is relatively recent and the floodgates burst only after the launching of the Oslo Accords when a massive flow of post- Zionist views was unleashed throughout the media and promoted by academia. Israelis were inundated with exciting new post-modernist ideas promoting the universal versus the particular, and post-Zionism was provided with a mantle of respectability. Their message, usually conveyed subliminally, was that “Israel was born in sin.”

Government officials contributed to this erosion of national values by concealing Palestinian Authority breaches of the accords and promoting utterly unrealistic expectations of the Palestinian commitment to the peace process. The objective was to convince skeptical Israelis that the road to peace with the Arabs could only be achieved by coming to terms with Arafat and his gang.

Yitzhak Rabin, one of the last of the old Mapai stalwarts and a disciple of Ben-Gurion, was initially sandbagged into endorsing Oslo but ultimately identified himself with the process and then promoted it aggressively. Many speculate that had he not been murdered he would have conceded that his gamble for peace had failed, and steered the Labor Party on an entirely different course, including aggressively confronting Palestinian terrorism.

AFTER THE assassination of Rabin, the young Turks led by Yossi Beilin, the real architect of Oslo, virtually hijacked the party. During his term as justice minister, Beilin had already conveyed mixed messages tinged with post-Zionist ideas. For example, he repeatedly stated that his grandfather, a delegate of the Hovevei Zion at the early Zionist Congresses, had erred in opposing Theodor Herzl’s efforts to create a Jewish state in Uganda. Beilin claims that had Herzl succeeded with Uganda, this could have changed history and avoided the Holocaust.

Beilin’s behavior after the landslide defeat of the Barak government was nothing short of outrageous. Again and again he publicly accused Sharon of responsibility for the terror. He canvassed foreign governments urging them to reject the policies of the democratically elected government in a manner unprecedented for a former minister of any democratic country – especially a country at war.

Mitzna by and large shares a similar political outlook to Beilin, and with his election to the leadership the already demoralized Labor Party became utterly marginalized.

Yet it is counterproductive to simply dismiss the new radical Labor leaders as self-hating Jews, defeatists, or traitors. Many, like former Jewish communists and progressives, genuinely believe that they represent the vanguard of those destined to bring about peace and goodwill amongst the nations. Their secular god is the god of universalism. They remain convinced that they and they alone represent the true apostles of peace and those opposing them are fascists, racists, and warmongers.

It is sad that such forces now control the Labor Party. They have lost the plot. They are immune to reason and dialogue. They are cliche ridden. They identify more with the suffering of the Palestinians than their own people. They continuously rail against alleged human-rights violations by Israel. “End the occupation,” they say, parroting Arafat. “Defeat Sharon and the warmongers and we will have peace Get rid of the settlements,” despite the fact that the Arabs have now made it clear that they regard all of Israel as one big settlement.

They are psychologically incapable of evaluating evidence even if it is presented to them. They condemn their own people and justify the murderous actions of our enemies. The heartbreaking response of members of Kibbutz Metzer after a terrorist in cold blood butchered a mother and her two children in bed is a sad example. By blaming the prime minister instead of the terrorists, they symbolize the tragedy of the Israeli Left, which has entirely lost its bearings.

The radical Left provides the Palestinians with comfort and gives them hope that terror will still pay off. If they can only continue killing a few of us every week, ultimately our morale will collapse and we will give up and run away. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Palestinians are strongly supporting Mitzna and have even offered him financial support.

The challenge for democratic socialists in Israel is to resurrect a party which has become a haven for defeatists, post-Zionists, former Marxists and other lost souls. It should be borne in mind that only 36,000 Israelis voted in favor of Mitzna at the primaries. Having regard to the fact that many of those who supported Mitzna did so despite rather than because of his dovish approach, the jury is still out on the attitude of rank-and-file supporters of Labor.

There are strong grounds to believe that the majority of Labor supporters remain committed Zionists. Most would also probably agree that despite the noble intentions of the architects, the Oslo Accords were flawed because our designated peace partner, Arafat, sought our destruction rather than seeking a peace settlement. For this as well as other reasons, there are grounds for hope that in the wake of a massive electoral defeat the silent majority of Israeli social democrats will rally and try to revitalize Labor Zionism from within.

If not, a new Labor Zionist party must be created to cater for those on the Left who recognize the need to renew the Labor Zionist tradition which played such a noble role in nation building and leading the Jewish state during its formative years.

The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress ([email protected]).

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