There is absolutely no news from the recent Israeli Labor primary elections, in which Avi Gabbay, a former high-tech CEO and minister in Netanyahu’s government, won the leadership yesterday.
Nothing changed. So why are they all talking about a ‘revolution’?
It’s the same-old same old. Ahead of the vote, Haaretz readers sent questions to the candidates. Asked whether he would support a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Gabbay was unenthusiastic, but he said he would resume negotiations with the Palestinians and stop construction outside the settlement blocs.
“But I don’t believe in unilateral withdrawal,” he added.
So, no construction ‘outside the settlement blocs.” That means continued settlement ‘expansion’. The settlements just grow from ‘within,’ not ‘without’.
Asked whether he would invite the Joint List, which includes Arab parties, to join any government he might head, Gabbay said he believed Israeli Arabs should be represented in government, but that parts of the Joint List were so extreme that forming a coalition with them was impossible.
“The Joint List’s current composition includes anti-Zionist elements like [Haneen] Zoabi and [Jamal] Zahalka, so we can’t cooperate with this composition,” Gabbay said.
So, Gabbay only really wants “Israelis who love the country”, “Israelis who believe in our ideological values”, as he said in his victory speech (my translation of the Hebrew) – and those “ideological values” are obviously Zionist ones.
Those who challenge these Zionist values in any way are simply “extreme”. And we don’t want to be ‘Arab lovers’ in joining with them. The former party leader Isaac Herzog has already warned against such coalitions.
Alright, yes, Gabbay said ‘Palestinians’ once in his speech:
“No more of the regime that is busy playing blame-games against the Palestinians”.
No, no blame-games preempting negotiations perhaps. But who or what stops us from playing blame-games afterwards, chiding them for not accepting the ‘generous offer’, as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak did in 2000?
Barak was ecstatic over Gabbay’s victory, calling it a “Revolution.” To be precise, he used the word Mahapach. Israelis use the term Mahapecha for “revolution”, and Mahapach for a dramatic turning of leadership between supposed left and right. It’s the same root word. Mahapach can be seen as a way of saying “revolution-lite”, without challenging the overarching Zionist paradigm. The cheering crowd at Gabbay’s speech also shouted this word.
Barak said, “Only a big bloc will return hope to the heart.”
This ‘big bloc’ talk is very typical for Israeli Labor’s claims for a broad constituency. Former leader Herzog has repeatedly boasted of his ‘huge bloc’. That suggests an arching across the Israeli Jewish center– as in the grouping called Zionist Union under which Labor ran for the last Knesset elections.
Indeed, centrist Tzipi Livni from the Hatnuah party (also part of the Zionist Union) was pleased. She said that following the Labor Party primary, the Zionist Union will need to expand its support to create a “large bloc” to replace Netanayhu.
Gabbay is an excellent candidate for representing this ‘left center’ notion, coming almost straight from a ministry position (Environmental Protection) in the Netanyahu government. And coming from a centrist neoliberal party, Kulanu, before he moved to Labor (inspiring claims that he is Israel’s Emmanuel Macron).
Many are talking about his ‘Mizrahi’ roots (Jews from Arab countries, but don’t you dare say Arab Jew!), and of how few Mizrahi leaders there have been in the Labor party historically. But I don’t think that’s an indication of lessened racism in the Labor party. Mizrahi Jews have historically been some of the biggest enablers of Zionist racist policies against Palestinians. Electing a Mizrahi to appear non-racist and then continuing an oppressive status-quo against Palestinians is not only meaningless, but also cynical.
So now all the Laborites are talking about ‘replacing the government’– ‘regime change’ or ‘revolution’ or some other buzzword. Here they are:
- “Tomorrow the election campaign to replace the government in Israel begins,” Gabbay said in his speech.
- His competitor Amir Peretz congratulated Gabbay for his victory, calling him a “key partner in the mission to replace the Netanyahu government.”
- Former party Chairman Herzog commended Gabbay on the “impressive victory,” stressing his support and determination to work with him to replace the current government.
And on and on.
So much change in the air. What a brouhaha. But for Palestinians, there is very little to look forward to. A nicer face than Netanyahu, perhaps.
But the Israeli labor party has historically been responsible for the worst Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. Today it is fulfilling its role as the pleasant hypocritical face of Zionism, providing just the right dosage of ‘liberalism’ whilst keeping critical distance from any suggestion of ‘Arab loving’.