There were times both before and after Israel’s establishment when the left-wing Zionist elite enjoyed both practical and spiritual domination. The Israeli elites fussed, debated, created and fostered a new model of sovereign Jewish existence in which the past, the present and the future merged.
The great intellectuals upon whom the Zionist Labor movement relied created a national identity that integrated Jewish tradition, proud Israeli nationalism and socialist or at least quasi-socialist ideology. Their ideas fascinated huge audiences and attracted masses of enthusiastic supporters. Labor’s predecessor, Mapai, ruled not only as a result of its efficient political machinery, but because its vision was accepted by most of the Jews in the country before and after it gained independence in 1948.
A few decades have since passed, and now, not much remains of the Zionist left’s value system. The first thing to go was Jewish tradition. Unlike Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his associates, who were well-versed in Jewish philosophy and history, their successors in the Labor Party now mention Judaism only to cry “Religification! Religification!”
The second value to evaporate was socialism, although this was not the fault of the Israeli left. Socialist ideas have failed all across the world, having proved futile in the long term. Jewish nationalism was the last value to fall off the left’s ramshackle wagon. It began with the lunatic fringes of the radical left and slowly penetrated the ranks of the Meretz Party, which abandoned its character as a Zionist party. It has now made its way to the more centrist left. The leftist camp’s decision to join the struggle against the nation-state law, which is anchored in Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people, symbolized its greatest renunciation of the founding values.
But the Zionist left, if one can still call it that, does not present any alternative values to those it has lost, except perhaps the “religion of peace,” through which members of the left have tried to convince Israelis to yield their assets in return for an opportunity to enjoy hummus in Damascus. The vision of peace was marketed with flashy and cosmopolitan terminology. But all that glitters is not gold. And the hope of land for peace was blown to shreds when it encountered reality.
So what are the left’s aspirations in the upcoming elections? Why is it trying to regain power, seeing how Israel’s citizens have rejected its old wares, and it has nothing new to offer? Absent ideas or vision, all that remains for the left-wing elite is to ensure that control over the centers of power—the justice system, academia, the media and culture in general—are kept out of the hands of Israeli voters. Leftist intellectuals are concentrated in these fields, and they also want to maintain their grip on those centers of power and the resources at their disposal.
These are elites who have ceased to be elites. They do not take the people forward to higher peaks or new achievements. Instead, they lobby to keep the bastions of power in the hands of their leaders, who have grown accustomed to deciding among themselves what is good for all of us, what is right and what is enlightened, what is appropriate and what is moral. Through their control of public resources, they perpetuate their influence and impose their mistakes on the majority.
Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization Faces of Israel.