Trending Topics:

The swan song of the Israeli left

News
on 20 Comments

This post is a response to an article by Israeli writer Etgar Keret that appeared in both  Ha’aretz and the Los Angeles Times.  This piece was originally submitted to the LA Times and they declined to run it.

Between the lines of Etgar Keret’s recent LA Times article on the Middle East conflict, one can hear the swan song of the Israeli-Jewish left.

Etgar Keret (Photo: Yanai Yechiel)

Etgar Keret (Photo: Yanai Yechiel)

On the surface, Keret’s thesis seems innovative: He argues that the left, instead of simply yearning for peace, should have the Will to Compromise; instead of its messianic tendencies, the left should resort to realpolitik. But since when is the Israeli peace camp messianic? Throughout its existence, it was extremely Mapainiki (the dominant, opportunist labor party in Israel). Historically, the peace camp’s narrative was a performance of shooting and then crying.

The basic catchphrase that has captured the essence of the post-1967 Zionist Israeli left is “territorial compromise.” Not “reconciliation of historical injustice” nor “fighting for justice,” not “asking for forgiveness” nor “granting the right of return.” No compensation for the Nakba and no coexistence or equality among the nations. No sincere offer of a communal, shared life based on equality between the two peoples. Instead, territorial compromise.

It was with these very words, “territorial compromise,” that the left laid the foundations for the right’s fundamentalist theology: “This land is ours, and ours only.” That is to say: the Zionist left also believes that God gave this land to us, the Jews. The difference is that the Zionist left is willing to return small plots of land to the “natives” — but, ironically enough, only to prevent them from complaining or fighting back. And in that way, as we remain baffled by the enigma of our own secular theology, we are facing political rivals who are burning with ideology. Unfortunately, these rivals are people of principle and vision, people who drag behind them an entire nation on a messianic quest to the heights of a “steadfast precipice” (direct translation of Israel’s current operation in Gaza), just to take one giant suicidal leap. The left, on the other hand, never had an inner truth that could stop this horrific stampede. All we’ve ever had is theological compromise.

But Keret writes that we need to compromise. Who is his addressee? Is it the peace camp that has already compromised itself? Or is he addressing “the uncompromised”: the Israeli-Jewish right, those euphoric fascists running amok and burning a Palestinian boy alive?

Although Keret’s talent is respectable, his symptoms are the same as those suffered by most of the Israeli-Jewish left: They don’t see Palestinians as subjects in the struggle, they only see themselves.

Academic Eva Illouz — who, unlike Keret, believes in the struggle for peace — is also caught in this syndrome. She draws an analogy between the Middle East conflict and the American civil war for the emancipation of slaves, as if the struggle in our region could be reduced to a struggle between left-wing and right-wing Israeli Jews, between white racists and white humanists. As if the Palestinians were only passive objects in an ideological war among Israelis. But for God’s sake, here in Israel-Palestine, there is no real struggle between right-wing and left-wing Jews; the right is in complete control. Right now, all we actually have is a struggle between Israeli-Jewish oppressors and oppressed Palestinians. It’s time for the left, no matter how broken or fragmented, to pick ourselves up and invent ourselves anew.

Whether we like it or not, we are the fragmented left, and we’re part of an occupying nation. That’s why, when I first heard about Keret’s article, I hoped that he would use his talents to inspire the remainder of the left with a new flame — to transform the fragments of despair into sparks of life. To remind us of our responsibility as Jews, both to the Palestinians and to ourselves. I hoped that he would give us strength, because it’s quite possible that in the very near future, we’ll need to hide Arabs in our homes as the militias of hawkish right-wing politicians Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman come to drag them out and round them up in the city square.

The violence of the oppressed is sometimes justified, but it’s not always necessary. Our job is to help create a radical space where the oppressed don’t need to resort to violence. We should stand in solidarity with the oppressed and propose an alternative in which the love of Israel and the love of Palestine can merge into one. I hoped Keret would dissuade the Israeli left from taking part in the assault on Gaza; I hoped he would suggest that we use our bodies to prevent the demolition of Arab houses in the mixed cities of Israel. I hoped that as a privileged Jew, he would stand beside the Palestinian citizens of Israel at this difficult time — even if he did not completely agree with them — and that he would risk his own celebrity for the sake of the truth.

A compromise is what is offered to those who dream of peace; even Hamas has proposed a long-term truce. The problem is that among us Israelis, nobody dreams of peace anymore, and nobody dreams of justice. Those who still dream dream of ethnic cleansing, and there is nobody out there to wake us up from this nightmare.

It is therefore not compromise I seek, but sanctity – the holiness of life. And the left, particularly because of its weakness, needs a messianic flame now more than ever.

Postscript

Eight years ago, I made the film Forgiveness. The title in Hebrew, Mechilot, has a double meaning: “forgiveness” and “underground tunnels.” I cannot think of a better way to share how I experience the current reality in Israel-Palestine. It’s a reality that is a result of a long-term self-manipulation of the psycho-national trauma of the Israeli Jews, a trauma that repeats itself time and again since 1948 — like a spiral that accelerates its movements towards ethical and mental destruction of the Israeli-Jewish soul. Now when we push the Palestinian people from their land into underground tunnels, forcing them into the position of the living dead, I decided to put Forgiveness on your film shelf for free for a month. I hope you will share it, think with it, and feel with it.

 

Udi Aloni

Other posts by .


Posted In:

20 Responses

  1. just on July 24, 2014, 9:21 am

    Thank you.

  2. Boomer on July 24, 2014, 9:34 am

    Well said; I echo just’s “thank you.”

    Regarding this:

    “But for God’s sake, here in Israel-Palestine, there is no real struggle between right-wing and left-wing Jews; the right is in complete control,” I would add that here in the United States, when it comes to Israel-Palestine, there is no real struggle in public discourse and public policy. Don’t expect help from the United States.

  3. samlebon2306 on July 24, 2014, 9:43 am

    Israel is an amputee, it lost its left. But when it look at itself in the mirror, it has the illusion that it has a left. Israel, so stop fooling yourself and the world along with it.

  4. Krauss on July 24, 2014, 10:01 am

    The narcissism of the Israeli Jewish left is laid bare, and we should be grateful for your role in that.

    Ultimately, they do not subscribe to the notion of justice. There are exceptions but they are few, and you’re one of them.

    Territorial compromise was always a corrupt concept when facing an ideology whose basic center is premised around remorseless colonization of land. You can’t be a “liberal” Zionist. It’s an oxymoron.

    And this is the rub, because to truly be relevant, the Israeli left has to cast off Zionism and fight for equal rights. Most of them are unwilling to do that, instead preferring a total and endless system of racial violence and control instead of giving up their position of power within a Jewish supremacist structure from which they were reared and often viciously defend when forced to choose.

  5. seafoid on July 24, 2014, 10:07 am

    I never had the opportunity to follow a society’s descent into fascism. I was too young for Spain, Italy and Germany.
    But with a Ha’aretz subscription it’s now possible again.

    And it reminds me of this (what the Germans did in the Netherlands)
    http://www.holocaust-lestweforget.com/holocaust-timeline-1941.html

    • stupidsensitivities on July 24, 2014, 3:07 pm

      descent into fascism. absolutely the right way to describe what we’ve been seeing.

      • seafoid on July 24, 2014, 5:04 pm

        Moving to Israel to become a Zionist is called aliyah in Hebrew. Going up.

  6. michelle on July 24, 2014, 10:20 am

    .
    the reasonable comproise with the just and open
    the doors of justice and equality to the oppressed
    G-d Bless
    .

  7. seafoid on July 24, 2014, 11:03 am

    Bibi’s children


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DuKTI7caiA

    The slow death of hatikva

  8. can of worms on July 24, 2014, 11:25 am

    “Our job is to help create a radical space where the oppressed don’t need to resort to violence. ”

    –>Our job is that the oppressed will no longer be oppressed.

    You think you can create a ‘space’ where those oppressed for generations don’t need to use force to be liberated from their colonial oppression? And you think violence isn’t a cleansing force?

    And the bottom question: Are you prepared to give up your privilege, to redistribute your wealth, to downgrade your real estate value, to share your space with those whom you’ve impoverished, to share your schools, to share your symbolic resources? To give up international charity as ‘the only Jewish State’? To risk initial economic loss? If no civil rights and no economic justice what then is ‘left’?

  9. seafoid on July 24, 2014, 11:43 am

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.606937

    “The rise of political vigilantism is sadly not limited to the Shadow or his minions. Nor did it come out of thin air. It follows years and years of waning support and for the left that can be traced back to the beginning of the Second Intifada, perhaps even earlier. During the past decade, Israel has undergone a deep process of right-leaning radicalization: the left now has less than 30 of the 120 seats in Knesset.
    De facto, it is no longer legitimate to be left-wing in Israel. “Leftists” have become such pariahs that during the last elections then-Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich vehemently insisted that neither she nor her party (Labor, the party of Rabin and Peres!) are or ever were left wing.

    The term “leftist”, in fact, has become a derogatory term barely distanced from “Nazi” in its offensiveness. Comedian Orna Banai was fired from an advertising campaign this week, after lightheartedly describing herself as a “weird left-wing Arab-lover.” Being a leftist is so taboo, that you can’t even joke about it.

    What’s left of the Israeli left is these puny, slightly-pathetic, street demonstrations. Now, even that ineffectual means is threatened by extremist bullies, legitimized by the apathy of the silent majority and the blind eye of politicians who profit from hate.

    This is what happens when people are told over and over and over again that the left is “the enemy from within”. It is only a matter of time before they want to “help” the army in its battle against Israel’s enemies. And it is that same pent-up energy, the energy of a frustrated and angry mob, that led to the kidnap and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir”

    30 out of 120 and 11 of those are Palestinian so there are only 19 Jewish left wingers out of 120- less than one sixth
    No wonder Israel has gone to the dogs.

  10. dbroncos on July 24, 2014, 12:04 pm

    Is this critique supposed to pass for a commitment to justice?

    “…I hoped that he would use his talents to inspire the remainder of the left with a new flame — to transform the fragments of despair into sparks of life.”

    Uh huh. Care to tell us what this means?

    “The problem is that among us Israelis, nobody dreams of peace anymore, and nobody dreams of justice.”

    And what will justice entail in I/P? Aloni doesn’t say.

    “It’s time for the left, no matter how broken or fragmented, to pick ourselves up and invent ourselves anew.”

    What will your new selves stand for, Mr. Aloni? You’ve neglected to tell us.

    ” We should stand in solidarity with the oppressed and propose an alternative in which the love of Israel and the love of Palestine can merge into one.”

    Are you asking Palestinians to merge into loving a Jewish State where “we will expell the Arabs and take their places.” How is that going to work out, Udi? Again, he neglects to define an Israel that Palestinians can love.

    “Our job is to help create a radical space where the oppressed don’t need to resort to violence.”

    LOL! Isn’t that what area C was meant to do?

    With this liberal Zionist pablum Udi Aloni doesn’t differentiate himself from Keret or Illouz at all. Say it loud and say it proud, Mr. Aloni: ZIONISM MUST BE ABOLISHED! PALESTINIANS MUST BE EMANCIPATED!

    • can of worms on July 24, 2014, 12:18 pm

      dbroncos, thank you.

      lol.

    • stupidsensitivities on July 24, 2014, 3:00 pm

      I hear you, but i believe his whole essay hinges on what he lays out in the first couple of paragraphs:

      “The basic catchphrase that has captured the essence of the post-1967 Zionist Israeli left is “territorial compromise.” Not “reconciliation of historical injustice” nor “fighting for justice,” not “asking for forgiveness” nor “granting the right of return.” No compensation for the Nakba and no coexistence or equality among the nations. No sincere offer of a communal, shared life based on equality between the two peoples. Instead, territorial compromise.”

      To be fair, he used the terms ‘right of return’ ‘compensation’ ‘historical injustice’ …and I think that’s at the heart of the subsequent arguments that he’s making. It felt like he was writing a last-ditch appeal to people who might not be as receptive if he shouted about the abolishment of zionism. that’s how i understood it, at least. does that make sense?

      • Mooser on July 24, 2014, 9:22 pm

        “that’s how i understood it, at least. does that make sense?”

        You’ve got it perfectly. And you will see it here, and my-oh-my you should see how shocked and indignant they get if told “territorial compromise” is not enough. They go nuts. They think offering “territorial compromise” rather than conquest, is the most generously radical solution ever! If you tell them it’s not enough they usually just shrug and go ‘oh well, back to conquest, then’
        It always sounds to me like ‘we get to keep what we stole fair and square’
        Maybe it’s “Jewish morality” I wouldn’t know.

    • stupidsensitivities on July 24, 2014, 3:03 pm

      people are more apt to hear you if you don’t scream in their ear. the entire world is shouting right now – and i am too! – but we shouldn’t forget the value of appealing to the dormant, quiet conscience. it seems Aloni isn’t too optimistic, but he gives it a valiant effort here. i’m just happy to see the term ‘right of return’!! Its always a good sign. and probably why the LAT didn’t publish it.

  11. Ron Edwards on July 24, 2014, 7:03 pm

    I saw Mechilot when it came to the States, at a film center not a commercial movie theater (big surprise). Thanks for making it and thanks for your article here.

  12. cosmopolite on August 30, 2014, 12:48 am

    “…it’s quite possible that in the very near future, we’ll need to hide Arabs in our homes as the militias of hawkish right-wing politicians Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman come to drag them out and round them up in the city square. ”

    Reading those words filled my mind with a terrifying and deeply nauseating thought. There is a good chance that by 2020, Likudniks and/or the IDF will have unleashed pogroms against Palestinians. The people who experienced pogrom after pogrom will become the perpetrators of pogroms. I was overcome with a desire to cry.

    • cosmopolite on August 30, 2014, 12:54 am

      Today, for the first time in my life (I can be very very slow on the uptake…) I saw that Deir Yassin was a pogrom. Sabra and Shatilla was a pogrom.

Leave a Reply