Immediately after leaving the army, Ariel Sharon created the Likud. It was 1973, when he realized that the army top brass would never tolerate his appointment as Chief-of-Staff.
For the creation of the Likud, he had a simple recipe: to unify all the four factions of the Right: Begin’s Herut (“freedom”) movement, the Liberal Party, the “Free Center” and the “State List”.
That was quite ridiculous. Herut and the Liberals had already formed a joint bloc. The two other factions were insignificant little groups. The “State List” was a remnant of the party founded by Ben-Gurion after Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres had deserted him and rejoined the Labor party. The “Free Center” was splinter party led by Shmuel Tamir. The big unification was a sham. Indeed, none of the factions’ leaders liked it. Sharon imposed it by creating public pressure.
At the time, I asked him about the sense of this maneuver. He explained the logic: the public must be given the impression that the entire Right Wing is coming together and creating a big political force. Nobody should be left out. Therefore, even the two small factions had to be included. There was an added value to the inclusion of the “State List”, which originated in the Labor movement: it could provide an alibi for former left-wingers ready to join the Right.
The trick was successful. Only four years later, the Right came to power–for the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, 19 years earlier.
Unfortunately, today there is nobody on the Left with a comparable recipe. In the Israeli political system, there is a gaping hole where the Left should have been. The future of Israel may be sucked into this black hole.
What we see is a terrible imbalance. All the signs indicate that the Israeli Left is beginning to wake up after three years of stupor and hopelessness. There are dozens of little indications that the peace camp is recovering. In the social field, too, leftist tendencies are raising their head. The resistance to Sharon’s policy of oppression and settlement is gathering momentum along with resistance to Netanyahu’s attack on the welfare state. There is a chance–slight but real, nevertheless – for a historic change.
But this chance cannot become reality if there is no political force capable of realizing it. The Labor Party remains a wasteland, with alley cats squabbling among the ruins. Even the effort to bring Amir Peretz, the Trade Union leader, back into the fold is meeting desperate resistance from party hacks afraid of losing their place at the empty bowl.
Since the elections, the Meretz party has been vegetating in a mood of depression and self-pity, reflected in the tortured face of Yossi Sarid. The other Yossi (Beilin), the moving spirit of the “Geneva Understandings”, dreams about a new “Social Democratic Party” that would consist of the elitist Ashkenazy group in another guise. It seems that among its potential founders there is agreement on one thing only: who not to allow in.
That is the great difference between the Right and the Left. The power-hungry Right understands the importance of unity. Even when its factions hate each other, they are ready to cooperate. In order to hold on to power, “moderate” rightists are quite prepared to march together with the fascist fringe.
On the left, the opposite is true. Every group is mortally afraid of the faction on its left. The right wing of the Labor Party is afraid of the party’s left wing. The left wing is afraid of Meretz. Meretz is afraid of Yossi Beilin, who was pushed out of the Labor party by Amram Mitzna and his fellow leftists, but was not offered a safe place on the Meretz list. Meretz is afraid of Peace Now. Peace Now is afraid of Gush Shalom and the Israeli Arab factions.
What is the fear all about? It’s quite simple. Every leftist grouping is afraid of not looking patriotic enough. Each of them says: “Look at us! We are nationalists! We are Zionists! We are patriots! We are not like those guys next to us, who are not nationalists, not Zionists, unpatriotic!”
After the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, a new leftist movement was born. It called itself “A Whole Generation Demands Peace” and was led by the dead man’s son, Yuval Rabin. It devoted much of its energy to the task of preventing people from confusing it with Peace Now.
I remember the following situation: Peace Now had set up some tents in Ras-al-Amud in order to protest against the creation of a new Jewish neighborhood in the middle of an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. A few meters away, Gush Shalom had set up its tents. The Peace Now people simply ignored the Gush activists. On the second day, Yuval Rabin appeared at the head of a Whole Generation parade. They looked through the Peace Now people as if they were thin air. (The Whole Generation has since disappeared.)
If the Left does not overcome its complexes, there is no chance of changing the government. A disunited Left, lacking leadership, self-confidence and a clear national and social program will not attract the support of the majority on election day, even if the public mood changes for the better.
There is a need for one big leftist party, in which all the political and ideological groupings will find a place, from the admirers (if any) of Ehud Barak to the admirers of Yossi Beilin, from moderate Social-Democrats to the radical left, based on a minimum common denominator (“Two States for Two Peoples”). Let a hundred ideological flowers bloom. Let there be a lively debate, but let there be one political action force capable of assuming power. If the Labor Party can still fulfil this mission–so much the better. The merger with the trade unionist “One People” party could be a first step. If not, a new party must be founded, in line with Sharon’s 1973 recipe.
It would be wonderful if the left had a charismatic political personality capable of leading this process. Alas, for the time being, there is none. Failing this, a collective leadership must be set up.
There is not much time left. The leftist public, and some rightists too, are waking up from the torpor of despair and are ready to follow whoever calls them to the colors. The state needs a change before disaster strikes. If the Left misses this opportunity, history will not forgive it.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.