Israel's Labour Party, headed by Avi Gabbay, has fallen out of favour with voters. Image Credit:

The results of the recent Israeli elections pointed at the continued decline of the Zionist ‘left’. The Israeli prime minister understands the schism in the opposition ranks. Haaretz says that “the Prime Minister’s divide and rule approach applies not only to the various groups that comprise the Israeli public, but also to his political opponents.

Netanyahu benefits from the existence of many political parties. According to the French writer Piotre Smolar, “The Israeli left is suffering. Its candidates lack clear programmes that can outperform those of the ruling rightist parties, except for Meretz party.” In an article in the French Le Monde newspaper he added: “Netanyahu sought to win a fifth term by blocking the opposition movements.”

However, the Israeli writer and researcher Assaf Sharon presents a relatively optimistic view: “It is true that the parties of the left have been defamed, but the reality has not changed, 80 per cent of the Israelis still support the left’s positions on economic and social issues. The overwhelming majority opposes the hegemony of the rabbi, and a solid majority agrees on the need to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

Labour Party leader Avy Gabbay said after an election defeat with only six seats in the Knesset that he is “considering to resign as party leader after failure in the election”.

The party’s secretary general Eran Harmoni stressed in statements to the media that “other party leaders should follow the example of Gabbay. It is not a personal matter but the party’s defeat and its critical position cannot be denied, so the resignation is inevitable.”

In analysing the causes of the decline of the left, headed by Labour, Nitzan Horowitz, a Meretz member who lobbied for the unification of left-wing parties, said that “dysfunction is one of the symptoms of the biggest problem — the party and the left are not sure of themselves and their positions.” He went on to say that “Netanyahu has succeeded in delegitimising the left, the media, the judiciary and what he calls the liberal elite. The left is not organised enough and is not sufficiently funded to challenge this long-running campaign.”

Moshe Yaalon, the retired army chief of staff and one of the leaders of the “blue white” party, commented that “the Left has become a dirty word now, a form of incitement.”

The Israeli Labour party has collapsed for a variety of reasons. Moshe Koppell, chairman of the conservative Kohelet Policy Forum writes: “They (the party) had the support of people who were there when the state of Israel was established, and those who vote for workers regardless of why, literally died.” He said: Perhaps the most prominent is the conclusion drawn from the position of the former Labour party chairman, Avraham Burg, who saw that the party had ended, calling for “the evacuation of the Labour and Meretz parties from the partisan arena and the establishment of something new and young to take their place.”

Burg, who served as chairman of the Knesset and head of the Jewish Agency, also likened the Labour Party to “a pet that was run over in a public road.”

The Israeli left seems to have become impotent. The political game has ended in the hands of the right with its many branches. Over the years and in an abundance of Israeli literatures, many writers and analysts address the crisis of the left in Israel, citing demographic and ethnic changes for its decline and the growing power of the right represented by the increased strength of Israeli Russian immigrants and the Haredi, the oriental and religious Zionist Jews.

The left has failed to penetrate these communities which were subject to the influence of the extreme right. Other prominent factors included the societal political drift towards various types of the Israeli right, as well as the left’s loyalty to a failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in addition to the booming economy that the Benjamin Netanyahu government succeeded in achieving.

Nowadays, many Israeli writers and politicians warn of the consequences of the decline of the left since the Israeli society is going deep into extremism and fanaticism, rejecting a peaceful political settlement with the Palestinians. They are against granting them any of their national and historical rights.

This might be true of the current political moment, but will such a situation continue to exist under the strong mobility enjoyed by the Israeli political community? One ‘good’ example is the sudden and rapid rise of the Blue White Party from one that actually did not exist months ago, to a party that won a number of seats in the Knesset nearly equal to those of the historic Likud party!

— Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.