Renaissance of Israel’s Left? Not So Quickly and Here’s Why


by Elizabeth Blade

Demographic changes and the inability of left-wing parties to reinvent themselves have become the main factors that have contributed to the fall of Israel’s liberal camp, a former parliamentarian thinks. For it to lift itself up, it will need to put egos aside and create a unified front that can topple Netanyahu.

In February, Israel will know the names and the number of parties set to take part in the country’s parliamentary race set for 23 March.

Already now, more than a dozen lists have confirmed their participation in the elections, with half of them positioning themselves in the centre-left.

In fact, the abundance of parties belonging to the liberal circles was so profound that Israeli media started talking about the revival of the Israeli left. However, some doubt this.

Revival Not Happening

Colette Avital, a former member of the Knesset for the Labour Party that used to govern Israel for nearly three decades but that later almost disappeared, says she would not brand the surge of so-called liberal formations as a “renaissance of the Israeli left”.

The reason for this, she believes, is that the liberal camp has gone through a long process of erosion, which cannot be repaired that easily.

“Over the years, many things have happened that made [Israelis] de-legitimise the left”.

One such thing was the overhaul that has occurred in Israel’s demography, which has witnessed a spike in the number of the Ultra-Orthodox, as opposed to the relatively low number of the country’s secular population.

Another reason was the immigration from the former Soviet Union that brought in many conservative voters, and yet another factor was the populism of the nation’s leaders as well as their tendency to please Jewish settlers, letting them carry on with their expansion activity in the West Bank, considered Palestinian land under international law.

The result was that over the years Israel has moved towards the right, whereas the left has been branded as a pejorative notion and as one that spews “anti-Zionist and anti-patriotic” ideas, something that pushed many Israelis away from giving their votes to parties associated with the liberal circles.

Ashamed of Being Left

But the erosion hasn’t been caused by social factors only and the former parliamentarian believes part of the problem has also been linked to “the inability of the liberal camp to reinvent itself”.

“Their [pre-election] campaigns carried mellowed down messages. Parties [that put forward their candidacy] didn’t want to look too left, positioning themselves as somewhat in the middle. They didn’t stick to their principles, joining any government that was formed and they stopped presenting an alternative”.

That unwillingness to set up a different agenda and speak out loudly about their “leftist” ideas led to the fall of the liberal camp. In 2015, for example, the Labour Party headed by Isaac Herzog failed to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office. And four years later, it almost vanished from Israel’s political scene as more and more voters decided to leave it, disappointed with its message, the agenda it set, the policies it adhered to, and the attitude it gave to its own people.

Yet, Avital says that the current political parties, some of which were formed to compete in the upcoming race, didn’t learn from past mistakes, and that they still opt for toning down their message instead of making their voice heard.

Such is the case with the party of Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai, who doesn’t seem to want to join forces with Labour, preferring to stay away from a party that’s currently sinking. And such was the case with Ofer Shelah, a former partner of Israel’s current opposition leader, who established his own party but who refrained from branding it as left.

An abundance of parties that don’t have a clear message will waste the votes of the liberal camp, believes Avital, and the only way to overcome this challenge is by putting egos aside and working towards the creation of a unified front that will go head-to-head with the governing conservative bloc.

“What they will also need is to reinvent themselves, come forward and become more compassionate towards people. And most importantly, they will need to find a leader, who would be able to create a dialogue, end the incitement and establish an order. The problem is that I don’t think this will happen any time soon”. 



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