Analysis: Israel’s Left veers to the Right

The moderate Israeli Left seems to have reached the conclusion that they must jettison classic leftwing positions and associations to remain politically relevant. 

By: Mati Wagner 

In recent days, two senior Labor politicians have sought to distance themselves from the Left in an apparent attempt to appeal to a broader constituency.

This development is part of a broader trend within Labor under the leadership of Avi Gabbay.

Veteran Labor MK Eitan Cabel caused an uproar among his fellow party members over the weekend after announcing his support for annexation of Jewish communities located in Judea and Samaria.

Nachman Shai, who came to the revamped Labor party — which now calls itself the Zionist Union — from Kadima has also ruffled feathers. Shai, who now plans to run for Jerusalem mayor on the Labor ticket, aroused the rancor of Labor Members of Knesset when he was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying he was “not a candidate from the Left” and by Makor Rishon that calling him a leftist was “a stain” that he intended to fight.

In an op-ed for Ha’aretz, Cabel supported applying Israeli law to the big settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria while freezing construction outside these areas until both Israel and the Palestinians have what he called “a Nelson Mandela.” Cabel added that the “Oslo paradigm” based on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians had failed and that a new, more pragmatic, approach was needed.

Labor’s leader also moving to the Right

Labor leader Avi Gabbay criticized both Cabel and Shai.

But Gabbay himself has attempted to re-position Labor since taking over leadership last year.

In November, Gabbay made headlines when he told a group of students at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba that the Left “forgot what it means to be a Jew.”

Gabbay has also called residents of communities in Judea and Samaria “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism” and said he would not evacuate settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

He also said he would not join a coalition with the Joint (Arab) List.

The political senses of Gabbay, Shai and Cabel seem to be telling them that positions associated with the Israeli Left, such as faith in the viability of a two-state solution, or attempts to present Jewish residents of communities in Judea and Samaria as obstacles to peace, no longer are shared by the vast majority of Israelis.

Many Israelis have become disenchanted with the Left due to its tendency to side with, or at the very least give legitimacy to, criticism leveled at Israel by the international community – particularly by Western European countries — for “occupation of the West Bank” or purported human rights abuses.

Israelis are rightly asking themselves why they should support a party that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state at a time when Palestinians in the West Bank are led by a corrupt leadership that rejects democratic process and equitable rule of law, and in Gaza by Islamist terrorists vowing to destroy Israel.

The “demographic threat” or preventing a situation in which Israel loses its Jewish majority does not seem to be enough of a justification for uprooting tens of thousands of peaceful, law-abiding settlers and handing over land resonant with Jewish history and religious meaning to an autocratic Palestinian leadership.

The question remains whether the Israeli Left can succeed in moving further to the Right while retaining a unique and distinct identity. So far it hasn’t: opinion polls show Labor would do poorly if elections were held now.

Perhaps Israelis are asking themselves why they should vote for a left-wing party that has adopted right-wing positions when they can vote for the real thing.