It is a tragedy that there is no large central left-wing Zionist party in Israel with governmental potential. It's bad for the political system, it's bad for the ideological discourse. The Labor Party has been unable to fill this void for a long time. The price of Oslo, say some. Maybe.
But the absence of an ideological-governmental alternative to the Likud-led national camp – which in times of crisis can also be a partner in an authentic unity government, reflecting agreement between two ideological camps – is part of an overall deterioration of Israel's political system.
Merav Michaeli announces that she will not run for the leadership of the Labor Party \\ Photo: Gideon Markowitz/TPS
What really went wrong
In Israeli political folklore, it is customary to attribute the breakdowns in political culture to the Likud. It's the loud and vulgar that recordings from his meetings elicit from commentators murmurs of "shame, shame," just like this week. It's easy prey. The fundamental, fundamental fault is reflected in the rise of the "fair" alternatives in the form of centrist parties. Therein lies real populism, where ideological superficiality also becomes a working method.
These are the parties that replaced the Labor movement: image populism like Yair Lapid, and security populism like Benny Gantz. Both are products of communication wizards, both are products engineered for quick consumption. There is no ideological movement behind them, and they have never presented an economic, political, educational, legal, civil vision that is not a series of clichés. Their parties are casting lists, and their people are grouped according to image fit. There is no party democracy, no ideological agitation, only a photogenic team whose whole essence is to be the negative. The negative of the Muslims and Regavim from the Likud – but also the negative of the crazy people from Meretz and Labor.
She has positions based on a worldview. Meirav Michaeli, Photo: Oren Ben Hakon
Against this background, the image of the Labor Party – yes, even under Merav Michaeli – stands out as a bastion of ideological discourse. There are at least two or three figures with whom you can engage in dialogue on issues of society, economics, as well as strategy and policy. You fall for people with a position.
Let's say what we will say about her - and soon we will say - Merav Michaeli is at least an initiation of some ideological path. It has an identity. She has positions based on a worldview. That in itself should stand in its favor, certainly compared to the centrist parties. And these positions had its role in the biography of the labor movement. Precisely because of what is perceived as the collapse of the "path of peace" and the two-state vision, Michaeli presented an alternative, more up-to-date set of values that seem to correspond well with contemporary social democracy: gender, climate, secularism and cosmopolitanism. This probably helped the party keep its head above water for a while and promised a kind of attractive buzz for young people.
But these circles of values, with all due respect, had a tenuous connection to Israeli reality, and very limited potential in relation to local society. In many ways, Merav Michaeli represents what might be called a "left of comfort": social circles whose struggle for class equality and social justice runs through academic symposia, docu-activism at festivals, meetings with students and college activists, publications in journals and trips to congresses abroad. You don't feel rough friction there, shoulder to shoulder, in the daily hardships of the toiling man. It's a sterile left of demonstrations with skillfully crafted creative signs. Left of connected.
Labor Party Chairman Merav Michaeli, photo: Oren Ben Hakon
At times it seemed that Michaeli, as a leader, was an authentic representative of a privileged social stratum, one that could experiment with adventures, skip between arenas, disintegrate from institutions that provide existential security such as family, vocational training, institutionalization. Its extroverted attitudes are even perceived as deliberate alienation from entire social strata: a kind of manifest aversion to the religious establishment, to the institution of the family, to what smells of tradition and nationalism.
Michaeli is also the authentic ambassador of the progressive left for the parties in Israel. And this is precisely the global left, whose moral decay is now exposed, with its refusal to stand by Israel and speak out against Hamas and anti-Semitism. This is of course not Michaeli's fault, but it can be attributed to the Labor Party's disengagement from a set of values that connected it greatly to Israeli society. Under her leadership, Labor completed a process – which had already begun before it – of distancing itself from its core founding values: settlement, labor, Zionism, a clear security concept.
Because the time has come
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Michaeli's announcement of his retirement comes at the exact moment when the "progress" in the Western world goes bankrupt, and is revealed to be completely irrelevant to the existential struggles of Israeli society. Because of the preoccupation with gender, the secularization of space, the climate – all things that are a priority for fashionable young people in European capitals and on North American campuses – the important things that the labor movement is the parent of have been forgotten: agriculture, settlement, border security, the periphery. The past few weeks have made them relevant, if not critical, to our continued existence here.
Even devout rightists should pay tribute to Merav Michaeli – if not for her opinions, at least for being and still being an oasis of ideological discourse in an arid ideological wasteland that stretches through the deserts of Yesh Atid and the state camp. Perhaps, perhaps, her resignation from the Labor leadership will also mark a way for the party and the movement to return to its founding and all-important ideas. In contrast to the babble of "unity" and "statehood" in Gantz and Lapid, the common, fruitful space between the left and right in Israel passes through these values and the shared adherence to their advancement. I have a feeling that certain wings of the right, especially in the periphery, especially in the social spheres, will be happy to have a dialogue with the next leader or leader. Merav Michaeli is in Mem. In this order, Mem is followed by Noon.
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