“The left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish.” The new Labor Party leader, Avi Gabbay, said that to students at the Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, as the Israeli press has widely noted.
Gabbay, who as Labor leader is chair of the opposition political faction known as Zionist Union, was voicing words that were in fact an exact copy of what Prime Minister Netanyahu had said in 1997 to the late rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, (caught on hot mic), words that had caused some serious furor in Israel at the time. Netanyahu told the rabbi:
“The people of the left have forgotten what it means to be Jewish. They think that our security can be placed in the hands of Arabs – Arabs will take care of us. We’ll give them a part of the land, and they’ll take care of us. Where can such a thing be heard?! It’s as if the spies would come and say [alluding to the spies Moses sent to Canaan, Numbers 13, ed.], not only are these big and we’re afraid of them – they are big and we will let them defend us! Something!”
Gabbay’s version was of a somewhat less inciting nature against ‘Arabs’ than Netanyahu’s, but no less Judeo-centric. Gabbay said:
“Our values are the basis for the whole generation which came after. We are Jews and we do need to speak about our Jewish values. I tell you with guarantee, everything begins with our Torah, in our basic religious rulings and in the basic things, we need to be proud of this.”
Gabbay was completely aware of the parallel between his words and Netanyahu’s. Ynet reported that when one student criticized Gabbay for having apparently ‘changed direction,’ Gabbay responded by citing Netanyahu’s words from 1997:
“People feel that I am nearing more the Jewish values. We are Jews, living in a Jewish state. I think that one of the problems of members of the Labor party, seriously, is that it has distanced itself from this. Netanyahu said in ’97 to the Rabbi Kadouri and the TV caught it – he said to him ‘the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish’. You know what the left has done in response? Forgotten what it means to be Jewish. It’s as if they are saying about us ‘now we are only liberals’. It’s not true. We’re Jews and we do need to speak about our Jewish values.”
In that last part, Gabbay was thus not only declaratively distancing himself from liberalism, he was also admitting that Jewish values and liberalism are certainly not the same thing. Now that’s something to note carefully.
To the right of Zionist Union, at the ‘liberal center’ of Israeli politics, stands lawmaker Yair Lapid, who according to polls is a more likely future Prime Minister than Gabbay. Lapid is what I call ‘the pretty face of Israeli ultra-nationalism’. Gabbay was asked whether he would agree to be number 2 under Lapid, who is chair of the centrist Yesh Atid (‘There’s a Future’) party, if Lapid got more mandates at the polls than Gabbay. Gabbay responded:
“It’s clear that Prime Minister is a means to change the country, not a goal. It’s clear that can be number 2. It’s a matter for the public. If you choose me, I’ll be number 1, but in the end, I’ll do whatever is necessary to change the state of Israel. It’s not a hammer that I have where I dream [about it] from my childhood. I’m there because it’s a means to change the country”.
But what change is Gabbay speaking about? That Israel will become even more Jewish, in the Zionist application?
In Gabbay’s rendering, non-Jews are simply out of the equation. The only left that is valid is the Jewish one, and the left needs to remember that, and be reminded of it: Israel is a Jewish state, with Jewish values.
That’s the Israeli Zionist ‘left’ opposition for you. That opposition doesn’t really exist. And the Palestinians once again don’t exist for it. The ‘left’ just needs to remember what it means to be Jewish, and never forget it. And what does it mean to be a ‘Jewish leftist’? — I forgot– Ah, to make sure you’re not perceived as an ‘Arab lover’, as Gabbay’s predecessor at the top of the Zionist Union faction, Isaac Herzog, warned last year.
That’s what it’s all about.