The Decline and Fall of the Israeli Left

May 21, 2020 | Neil Rogachevsky
About the author: Neil Rogachevsky teaches at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

From 1948 until 1977, the Labor party led every one of the Jewish state’s governments. The most recent election, however, has left Labor on its deathbed, having failed in several consecutive elections to unseat the now-dominant Likud. Instead it is the former IDF chief Benny Gantz who—leading an array of centrist parties—has established himself as Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival. Neil Rogachevsky writes:

[A]lthough the (now broken) bloc of parties that Gantz had assembled, called Blue and White, was sometimes described as centrist or even center-left in the foreign media, Gantz’s opposition to Netanyahu has been anything but ideological. Indeed, anywhere else in the world, Blue and White would have been thought of as a classic right-wing party. Gantz’s platform consisted of calling Netanyahu “soft” for insufficiently bombarding or invading Gaza; he enlisted two other generals of the same persuasion as running mates to show he was serious. At campaign rallies and on TV, Blue and White leaders literally and figuratively draped themselves in Israel’s blue and white flag. The not particularly eloquent generals repeated the slogan “Israel before everything” and offered little else.

Gantz defended the “independent judiciary” and public services: he was an advocate of the civil servants and, so to speak, Israel’s “deep state” of prosecutors, judges, military officers, etc. His lone social issue was the country’s comparatively impressive healthcare system, which, because of population growth, has shown signs of strain in recent years; Gantz wanted to spend a bit more money on it.

But there was no class warfare at all in the Blue and White campaign. Most surprisingly, the attacks on the industrial families that control Israel’s major enterprises—the typical targets of left-of-center reformists—were nowhere to be heard. Instead, Gantz castigated Netanyahu for alleged (and likely exaggerated) corruption. He mainly sought to benefit from voters’ growing dislike of Netanyahu or at least fatigue—Netanyahu has now been prime minister for eleven years straight, after an earlier stint in that office from 1996 to 1999.

The single most important factor in the decline of Israel’s Labor party (as opposed, perhaps, to the labor movement) was the failure of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

Yet, Rogachevsky goes on to argue, the eventual collapse of Labor Zionism was in some ways an inevitable consequence of the movement from its very beginning.

Read more on American Affairs:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now