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‘The left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish’– says leader of Israeli ‘opposition’

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“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!”

Avi Gabbay

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.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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12 Responses

  1. Mooser on November 15, 2017, 11:24 am

    “That’s what it’s all about.”

    You do the hokey-pokey, and you turn yourself about.

  2. yourstruly on November 15, 2017, 1:23 pm

    Whatever it means to be Jewish, it certainly doesn’t include being a slaveolder, which raises the question as to whether Israeli Jews are truly Jewish, what with their occupation of Palestine, the homeland of the Palestinian people, since taking over another people’s land is a form of enslavement. But if not Jews, what? Pretenders, perhaps?

    • JWalters on November 15, 2017, 8:49 pm

      There seems to be a lot of confusion about the vague phrase “Jewish values”. If we accept the Torah at face value, Abraham was a slaveholder. Then there is that belief in Jewish supremacism, a superior people destined to rule the world, dreamt up by some ancient Jewish David Duke. Reform Judaism rejected all that. But Israelis still get to go on MSNBZ and proclaim “Jewish values” as if these are agreed upon and unquestionably good for humanity.

    • RoHa on November 15, 2017, 10:42 pm

      “How dare you, in the face of the sanction and protection afforded to slave property in the Ten Commandments–how dare you denounce slaveholding as a sin? When you remember that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job–the men with whom the Almighty conversed, with whose names he emphatically connects his own most holy name, and to whom He vouchsafed to give the character of ‘perfect, upright, fearing G-d and eschewing evil’ (Job 1:8)–that all these men were slaveholders, does it not strike you that you are guilty of something very little short of blasphemy?”
      Rabbi M.J. Raphall (circa 1861)

  3. Keith on November 15, 2017, 6:03 pm

    Mythology is the lie we tell ourselves. Actions speak louder than words. Israel is the self-defined Jewish state strongly supported by the Jewish Diaspora elites, hence, Zionism and Israel do, in fact, represent real world Jewish values. Reality is what it is, truth frequently unpleasant.

    • yourstruly on November 16, 2017, 12:51 am

      “Israel is the self-defined Jewish state strongly supported by the Diaspora elites, hence, Zionism and Israel do, in fact represent real world Jewish values.” More accurately they represent the values of Diaspora elites, not those of diaspora non-elites. Some of them, but most can be won over by exposure to the real world of Israeli apartheid and oppression of Palestinians as well as other non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. As for the diaspora elites, their Israel-firstness gonna bring them down.

      • Keith on November 16, 2017, 11:25 am

        YOURSTRULY- ” More accurately they represent the values of Diaspora elites, not those of diaspora non-elites.”

        The elites determine both group values and group actions, the non-elites are basically faithful followers who follow faithfully. You have the stated mythological values such as all men are created equally and endowed with certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Then you have the real world values as indicated by actions, such as slavery, exploitation, genocide of the natives and pursuit of empire. I see no evidence that the non-elites plan on rebelling anytime soon. Rather, I see them lying to themselves about what their actions indicate about their values.

    • JosephA on November 16, 2017, 1:07 am

      Keith, I disagree. Israel is not a Jewish State – it just claims to be. ISIS is not a Muslim State, it just claims to be. Both Israel and ISIS claim to represent their respective religions. Both entities also take part in state-sponsored terrorism.

      • Keith on November 16, 2017, 11:04 am

        JOSEPHA- ” Israel is not a Jewish State….”

        What then, a state of all of its citizens? Of course it is the self-declared Jewish state supported by Jews around the world. Most importantly, by the Jewish Zionist elites who have power. ISIS is in no way comparable. Israel is a member of the United Nations. Case closed. Reality is what it is, your definition does not change reality, it merely reflects your perception of reality.

      • gamal on November 16, 2017, 11:56 am

        ” ISIS is not a Muslim State, it just claims to be”

        sure but an Islamic state makes this easier, lets assume they are synonymous, allow me to sow Sunni confusion,

        I am not clear how one would establish or reject the “Islamicness” of a state.


        After the period of charismatic leadership that ended with Ali the Caliphs were secular rulers, that they were not in control of dogma or “law” was a big headache for them.

        skipping ahead it was the modern guy Maududi, not a trained scholar, who advocated the notion that Islamic governance was established by implementation of that tortured term Sharia.

        in the 18th century attempts were made to turn fiqh into a statute law like what they Europeans had the main opponents were the Fiqhi scholars, who said our discipline is theoretical and can only be applied by a Cadi well versed in local mores, customs and cognisant of the effects that “legal” decisions would have locally, etc.

        Because i know little legal theory let me give you an example of why Sharia can not and has never been a legal system in the modern sense, it is a system of arbitration and is “non-proscriptive” (?):

        lets say we enter in to an invalid contract lets say i agree to sell you x bails of silk at a given price, you pay me, I go to Damascus to buy the silk, which I didn’t own at the time of our contract, find it is more expensive than hoped and I buy x-2 bails, to maintain my profit and return,

        you say no way and we repair to the Qadi and present our contract, so he will say the contract is useless, but there is no punishment for having entered in to an “illegal” contract just the Qadi can’t use it to resolve the dispute, so he will try to get everything back to the situation before the contract was enacted as much as possible.

        Is a state non-Islamic if it is monstrously cruel and unjust, perhaps but there is another factor here which is both culturally embedded and ideologically foundational in Islam,

        Islam, the religion and Islam the culture is deeply suspicious of States and rulers all, historically the State has pretty much always, from day one nearly, been in conflict with “organic” intellectuals of the Ulema and other interpreters,

        The Islamic view of the state is pessimistic, but still I don’t know that I can say what is and isn’t Islamic or who is or isn’t a Muslim,

        the quest for real Islam and a real Islamic state or perhaps society would be better is oddly quite Un-Islamic because deeply embedded within in the Islamic canon is the notion that the state is not to be trusted and that people are enjoined to seek their own and their fellows ultimate welfare within whatever limits etc that they acknowledge, and distrust any and all “dominative” relationships, which are fraught with dangers,

        for instance if we look at the separation of church and state, this was the nature of the Caliphal state much to the chagrin of many Caliphs, however if we separate church and state and then present the state as an object of worship and infect our politics with a “progress” soteriology how are we any better off?

        no one can say what is or isn’t Islam, good and just governance is another matter and nothing could be more Islamic, according to its own rhetoric, it all depends on how you look at things.

        I never felt anything for any state, whatever it calls itself, maybe I am frigid.

  4. dvered on November 17, 2017, 12:18 am

    There is no such thing as “LEFT” in Israel. At best there are some liberals but most of them are Zionists at heart.
    One cannot be a Zionist and at the same time call himself a “Leftist”.

  5. Jane Porter on November 17, 2017, 3:02 pm

    JosephA, You explained shortly and clearly the similarity of Islamic State and Israel, ‘both take part in state-sponsored terrorism….by USA, Europe, Saoudi Arabia …etc. and even work together, Israel attending wounded IS fighters in their hospitals, well exchanging all kind of services and intelligence, Beeing both mercenaries of the wealthy nations cited above. Well that’s how I see it. And note that Is never did any harm to Israel.

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