Tamar Zandberg of Meretz: The end of ideology

At the time of writing (early March 2018), it is not clear whether Knesset elections are in the making, or whether Netanyahu will get a “pass” that promises him quiet until November 2019. This highly politicized drama dwarfs another drama taking place somewhere on the corner of Sheinkin and Rothschild, upscale streets in Tel Aviv. The question of elections for the Meretz leadership would not have had much impacton public consciousness had long-time leader Zahava Galon not dropped from the race. At the same time, her main challenger, Ilan Gilon, also decided to quit for reasons of health. Thus, Tamar Zandberg remains almost unchallenged. What began as a half-gimmick has turned into reality. Zandberg has announced her desire to participate in a center-left government, and she has indicated awillingness to sit in the same coalition with right-winger Avigdor Lieberman. Galon tweeted: “Zandberg is flushing ideology down the toilet.”

Indeed, she is doing just that.But it has become quite clear that most Meretz voters are ready for a horse-trade in ideology. The person who found herself down the toilet was Galon herself. Meretz members let her understand that ideology does not paygrocery bills. Zandberg decided that the best way to tackle Galon’s ideological “purity” and social-democratic platform was to sell an illusion:“Meretz headed by me will receive ten seats. I will be an important partner in a center-left government, and I see myself as a minister.”She thinks she will win on a promise to make Meretz great again. Of course, the difference between Trump and Zandberg is immeasurable. Trump, like Bibi, is a right-wing extremist, whereas Zandbergclaims to be a leftist and makes no apology. However, her willingness to sit with the likes of Lieberman shows that she has lost the ability to distinguish between leftand right.

Zandberg has abandoned ideology to sell an illusion. Her prescription for reviving Meretz is to forget about purity, stop talk of human rights and the occupation, roll up her sleeves and get 10 seats, i.e. not to sit in the opposition but in a chair at the government table. The illusion is not that Meretz cannot win 10 Knesset seats, but rather that such an achievement, at the price of principle, will render Meretz impotent in any government it joins. If Zandberg looks to the Right(and that is precisely what she is doing) she will notice that the seats she gains for Meretz are bled from the Labor Party. In other words, Labor may hemorrhage seats, but this will not alter the inter-bloc balance. Bibi, or whoever replaces him, will form the next government with “natural” partners in the rightist bloc.

Zandberg is hardly to blame. The strengthening of the extreme Right is not a uniquely Israeli phenomenon. Netanyahu’s friends seized power in Poland, Hungary, and Austria, and his good pal Trump sits in the White House. In order to beat the Right, one has to win over the “periphery,” a politically correct way of describing Likud’s Mizrahi electoral base. The formula is simple: fight Bibi on his own turf.It is naively believed that with Avi Gabbay at the head of Labor, and Buskila or Dabush (both Mizrahi from the periphery) near the top of Meretz, they will poach seats from the Right. But the numbers don’t add up. For most Mizrahis, anyone opposing the Likud is a traitor, a “fake” Mizrahi, a lover of Arabs, not really a Jew.

Attempts to cajole Mizrahi workers to vote”Meretz” are like trying to convince white coal miners in Kentucky to vote Democratic. Bibi is an Ashkenazi who gets his kicks from cigars and champagne, while Trump is a New York billionaire who gets them from women and power.Butboth are seen by the poor as “one of us,” anti-establishment, anti-elite, anti-fake-news and anti-law-enforcement. The anti-list goes on: Mexicans in the US, North Africans in France, Syrians in Germany, both Arabs and asylum seekers in Israel. This trend cannot be altered by gaining a seat as a minister in a left-center government, or by watering down messages and surrendering principles.

Concerning the rise of the Right, it is necessary to point out that we are not facing an “Israeli” phenomenon. Sheldon Adelson finances both Netanyahu and Trump, Channel 20 is a twin Fox News, and xenophobia, accompanied by neoliberal capitalism and excessive nationalism, is a global blight. What sets Israel apart from the rest of the world is its colonial character: A fifty-year occupation has turned the two-state solution into an outdated and impractical paradigm. In addition to the occupation, which effectively steersits political agenda, Israel is run by an old-fashioned neoliberal economic structure. It is based on monopolies that corrupt politics and prevent the kind of modernization that can only come about through highly digitized industry, infrastructure spending, and alternative energy.

In a recentKnesset speech, Netanyahu boasted of his achievements.But these are built on his cooperation with weak or bizarre leaders such as Trump, Abu Mazen, and General al-Sisi of Egypt. These, each in his respective reality, do not benefit from the support of core elements in society.Trump’s bizarre decisions, such as raising tariffs on steel and aluminum or denying climate change, have caused near panic in the global economy.

As for Zandberg’s low regard for ideology,the Israeli Left long ago abandoned any. It has no political and economic agenda to counter the revolution led by the Right, with Netanyahu in frontwhile Naphtali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked occupy his flanks. Zandberg and her friends have long been blind to the political map. The Right wins because it projects and maintains a virtual reality of security, economic stability, a strong alliance with Trump, and a sense of well-being(despite huge socioeconomic gaps). Bibi’s power consistsin his ability to market this illusion, which will soon explode in Israel’s face. Meanwhile, the opposition presents no revolutionary alternative. Its platform is based on peace with the settlement blocs, a “humane” capitalist economy, and a “Jewish and democratic” state – inherent contradictions that cannot be resolved.

A “Jewish and democratic” state is a smokescreen for religious nationalism, and “two states for two peoples” is a smokescreen for continuing the occupation. If you wish to be an alternative, you have to tell the Right: “You have destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution; you made the country Jewish but trampled democracy along the way. Therefore, we offer the one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians as the only way to safeguard civil rights, to achieve real peace, and to maintain a lifestyle that is both democratic and secular. We challenge the neo-liberal economy by means of a modern, shared economy based on the democratization of the social network and alternative energy. Palestinians and Israelis can and should be partners in building a progressive, democratic and egalitarian society!”

The Right has always found support among those most affected by change. In our case, these are white workers in the UK or the US.But they cannot stop history. On the other hand, Israel’s continuation of the settlement enterprise, its refusal to compromise, its reliance on an alliance with Trump, his recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, all will bring about the demise of the Palestinian Authority.Zandberg, lacking an economic and political vision, envisionsten seats and a place at the cabinet table, but she does not see the future: Meretz is not a left-wing alternative, but a sham that leaves the right wing playing alone on the stage.

* Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman

About Yacov Ben Efrat