Reviews & Interviews
The Crack-Up of the Israeli Left
Review of The Crack-Up of the Israeli Left by Mordechai Nisan
The Jewish Press, October 24, 2019
The Israeli Leftist Meretz party joined forces in the past election with a deserter from Labor, named Stav Shaffir and with former general and ex-prime minister Ehud Barak. Whatever one might think of Barak’s record as prime minister, it was known at the time that Meretz formed a joint electoral list with Barak that he had received funds for unclear purposes from multi-millionaire, Jeffrey Epstein (and entities connected with him), who happened to be a convicted pedophile. We cannot now be sure of the nature of Barak’s association with Epstein but the London Daily Mail put photos on the Internet showing Barak going into one of Epstein’s homes in Manhattan in 2016. Surely this and other things raise questions about what Barak was doing there, although we cannot offer definite conclusions. Yet during the campaign a radio interviewer on Reshet Beyt asked the head of Meretz, Natan Horovitz, if Barak had been on Epstein’s island (of ill repute). This leader of an emphatically feminist party angrily retorted that Barak had given a strong answer to that question. Horovitz did not say if he believed Barak’s answer. Barak by the way had imputed fascism to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Mordechai Nisan finished writing his book on the Crack Up, the decline and fall, of the Israeli Left in 2018. He showed foresight by writing then that the Left was “shameful.” How do we explain an outspokenly feminist party that teams up with a convicted pedophile for a joint electoral list? Nisan knew whom he was dealing with. He wrote that the Israeli Left “is unreasonable, unrealistic and shameful to the core . . . one of the most astonishing cases of cognitive dissonance –when facts contradict ideas—in human history.”
Be that as it may, Nisan traces the Israeli Left’s history from the glory days of PM David Ben Gurion, when his MAPAI party dominated Israel politically, economically (through the Histadrut, both a labor union and a major owner of capital in the country) and culturally, when cultural institutions were typically state-funded and those who gave out the funds were MAPAI or MAPAM operatives (MAPAM was a further left party). Dominating cultural institutions and education provided the Israeli Left with what Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theorist, called hegemony. Gramsci saw this cultural hegemony as necessary for long-term political hegemony. MAPAI, now the Labor Party, had that hegemony.
Yet the disaster of the Yom Kippur War, 1973, led to the first government not led by MAPAI in 1977. Nevertheless, the new government led by Prime Minister Menahem Begin and his Likud Party could not exercise the full control that one might expect. This was because Labor and the further left parties retained control of state institutions, as Nisan discusses. These state bodies included the police, the army and the judiciary. They also included a committee that gave out state funds to subsidize Israeli made films. But only if they conformed to Leftist premises, principles, prejudices and presumptions. Peace as an abstract value was one of these.
Despite peace being a Leftist value, note that “peace” policies promoted by the Left do not necessarily nor even usually bring peace. PM Barak’s retreat from southern Lebanon and his generous territorial offers to Arafat at Camp David in 2000 and later in 2001 at Sharm ash-Shaikh led to the very bloody Second Intifada. The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 led to Hamas taking over that territory and making it into a rocket platform for terrorizing Israeli civilians. The Left supports policies ostensibly meant to bring peace but that often enough bring bloodshed and suffering.
The Left as depicted by Nisan has a cult-like character. It sees itself as superior morally and intellectually. Commenting on Labor’s loss in the 1977 elections, the Histadrut and Labor veteran, Yitshaq Ben Aharon, called Likud voters “ignoramuses” and said that the people had made a mistake. Leftists, especially in the arts and entertainment world of Israel, have deprecated non-Left voters in several election campaigns since 1977. Yet they don’t seem to learn and repeatedly insult which usually leads to more votes for Likud and other non-Left parties. Hence, we may see the Left as a morally smug, self-satisfied cult. A morally sanctimonious cult that yet has room for Ehud Barak on an electoral list. A cult that loathes the surrounding population.
To be fair, we ought to point out as does Nisan, that in many ways today’s Israeli Left is distinct from traditional Left parties, whether Marxist or social-democratic. The old emphasis on workers and the working class is gone. Whereas once every policy had to conform to what was seen as the class struggle or the supposed class interest of the workers, now the focus of the Israeli Left is the poor, oppressed “occupied” Arabs, now fashionably called “Palestinians” (who can do no wrong), although there never was a historical people called Palestinians. In an article of years ago, Nisan argued that it was the founding of the PLO in 1964 that essentially created a consciousness of being a people among Palestinian Arabs (and the perception of them as such by Westerners). In their focus on the imagined or hyperbolically inflated oppression of these Arabs, the Israeli Left has little to say about Arab workers exploited by Arab employers or the need for a class struggle among Arabs, etc. Nor about the abuse of Arab human rights by Arab rulers, including Abbas and other bosses of the Palestinian Authority. Nor about Abbas & Co. taking the lion’s share of international aid for these Arabs. Nor does the support for Hamas by the Qatari royals –among the richest people in the world whose dominion has been credibly accused of enslaving foreign workers who do most of the heavy and menial labor in the sheikdom– lead to noticeable Leftist criticism of Hamas for accepting Qatar’s, a slave state’s, aid.
Nisan’s book is very helpful for understanding Israeli politics, not just the Left. He covers a number of fields that a review cannot fully cover. The Israeli media in general and its incorrigible Leftist bias, sometimes veering into hysteria and pathological hatred for Netanyahu, get considerable attention. The mad utterings of Leftist politicians, especially the Meretz breed, are given their rightful place, necessary to understanding their mind-set. Consider a claim made by Shulamit Aloni, once the leader of Meretz. She compared the late Moshe Arens, a mild-mannered ambassador and defense minister for Likud governments as well as a historian of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, to Goebbels the German Nazi propaganda chief. The Left’s inclination to see the Jews, rather than Arabs, as requiring social engineering, to see the people as objects to be moved from place to place –as in being removed from Gaza in 2005—regardless of the cost to individuals– is given due attention. Nisan concludes that “The Leftists hated Jews more than they really loved Arabs.” Indeed much of the Left leans to hatred of Judaism. Which may be their main motive.
Nisan takes up the cultural/entertainment worlds in Israel as well as the universities, typically strongholds of the Left. He reminds us that the Left still wields Gramscian cultural hegemony: “While the Left has been in political decline for decades, it has however survived and flourished as a hegemonic cultural elite.” And Nisan berates the Right for not seeing the need to counter this cultural hegemony.
To conclude, Nisan provides useful lists of pro and lukewarm and anti-Israel organizations and individuals both in Israel and abroad. In the long term he hopes for a return of the Left to sanity and reality, and subsequent reconciliation with the Right. But he acknowledges that this is not for the present.
Many outsiders, both Jews and non-Jews, complain that they can’t understand Israeli policies, that what Israel does often makes no sense. Nisan’s book provides a human and political vision of bad actors and good actors here that can bring a great deal of understanding of what happens in Israel.
Eliyahu Green is a writer and researcher of the history of the Land of Israel and the Middle East. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including NATIV, The Jerusalem Post and Midstream.
Both America and Israel are struggling to reject socialism and the deep state
Israpundit, February 14, 2019
Mordechai Nisan authored a book Only Israel West of the River and had it published in 2011. This book is a classic and should be read by everyone. He wrote with such clarity and logic that its hard to dispute him. As a result, I invited him to speak at the conference on The Jordan Option.
He has now written The Crack-up of the Israeli Left. It is a precious book, in fact, an intellectual tour de force. Hardly a paragraph exists that doesn’t impress with his observations or conclusions.
This book is way more than a recount of the crack-up of the Israeli left. In fact, it is an intellectual history of Israel and its transformation from as “socialist utopia” some hundred years ago to the present day where is it is one of the most successful capitalist countries in the world notwithstanding that it has yet to shuck all its socialist baggage.
As I excitingly read through it, I couldn’t help but compare Israel’s story with America’s. In both cases, the land was settled alongside the existing population and the settlers were very much in the minority. In both cases the settlers shared a common history and distinct visions. Both groups were fleeing from religious oppression. The settlers of the English colonies, came from England and the Jews who settled in Palestine came mainly from eastern Europe and Russia. Ultimately both groups had to revolt against their English overlords to achieve independence.
The Americans were religious and embraced limited government and all that it implies i.e., conservatism and the Jews, though previously religious, embraced secular socialism reflecting the Communist revolution which was ongoing at the beginning in the first half of the 20th century. In both cases, each is travelling from its original vision and values to its opposite.
Mordechai Nisan asks “How it happened that the authentic classical liberalism of John Stuart Mill metastasized into liberal tyranny and thought-control is an intriguing historical question”. ..”Yet liberalism has metamorphosed in Israel into a very illiberal ideology serving the country’s anti-liberal antagonists and enemies.” You could say the same of America.
“A second path of liberalism in Israel is a more intricate phenomenon to lend itself to a precise explanation. The liberals became totalitarians in dictating what to think, how to feel, what to say and not to say, and how to relate to the Arab “Other.”” Sounds like in America, no?
“Ideological hounding and physically attacking the nationalist-rightist groups continued through the years of the British Mandate.”
“If debate was open and free, then the Right might convince the public that it and not the Left is a far more sensible and credible political camp. The Left did not only hate the Right; it essentially hated the people. This is the big secret it tried to obscure. Leftist condescension toward the Israelis colored its otherwise vaunted love for the people. It is axiomatic in Marxism and other totalitarian ideologies to believe that the people must be led and guided because it does not have the developed self-consciousness to know what is its own good. For this God gave us the totalitarian Left.”
“The inability of the Left to conduct a reasonable discussion about ideological principles and political performance is one of the most convincing pieces of evidence that their primary goal is to delegitimize and crush opponents, rather than engage in a civil dialogue.”
“From its early days, socialism and nationalism were bound together in the revival of Jewish peoplehood on the road to statehood. Marx and Lenin provided an ideological frame work and impetus for Jewish socialism in the Land of Israel. Three major components of the socialist creed galvanized the Zionist engine: class struggle, the proletarian dictatorship, and a vision of utopian justice and equality.”
“Socialism, perhaps with a resonance of Jewish roots in a morally rich culture, posits the collective over the individual, and the state above society. Its elite leadership draws upon the assumption that people lack the mental faculties to know what ought to be done and how society should be organized.”
“The Israeli case certainly fit the equation that identified socialism with secularism, an erosion of Judaism on the scale of personal and national ideas. History would later prove that the drying up of the spiritual wells would eventually lead to the bankruptcy of socialism and the decay of socialist parties in Israel.”
“A culture of totalitarianism and atheism was essential in building the ideological platform for socialism in the Zionist project.”
“The Labor movement’s power bordered on a near-totalitarian control and repression of competing parties. The Revisionist Movement led by Zeev Jabotinsky was vilified as a fascist deviant, and the Irgun nationalist militia that Menachem Begin led from 1942 was, as intimated earlier, defamed as an aberration from the responsible rule by Mapai in national Zionist politics, and vis-à-vis the British Mandate in Palestine. It is reasonable to consider in this context Foucault’s notion that power must hate and suppress truth. When the role of Betar/Revisionists was eliminated from the historical narrative of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, leaving the glory solely in the brave hands of the socialist-leftist camp, we learned how the role of rewriting history is designed to advance the present and future political status of one side alone.”
“The domestic enemies of socialism in its classic formulation are family, religion, and property. Although capitalism definitely represents freedom, socialism claimed that freedom is achieved when totalitarian rule from above imposes its structure of domination over individuals. When the individual loses the sense of himself and is submerged in the collectivity, it is then that socialism considers that man has been liberated from egoism as he merges with all mankind. This twisted reasoning, whereby a person must be alienated from himself, identities freedom with despotism in the socialist turning of truths on their head. For at root socialism represents slavery and not freedom.”
What Nisan has described in these quotes, we have witnessed in America in the last fifty years and saw it reaching its apex in the Obama era. Americans are turning against God and religion, the family, the individual, Judeo-Christian morality, democracy and the rule of law to name a few. The elites distain the deploreables and any restraints on their power and authority. The have imposed political correctness to outlaw any ideas inconsistent with their new world. They have coopted the DoJ, the FBI, the media, academia to their cause. Dissention is not allowed. They resort to class warfare, lawlessness, intimidation and violence to further their cause.
It took Menachem Begin’s political victory in Israel in 1977 to start the turn-around. He tried valiantly to turn things around but their were too many battle grounds to make much progress. Israel was suffering extremely high inflation, a poor economy, slow growth rates etc just as today’s socialist governments in Venezuela and many European countries are, to different degrees.
It took Benjamin Netanyhu’s advent to power both as a Finance Minister and Prime Minister to transform Israel from a socialist country to a capitalist one. This was all the more possible for him to do because he spent his teen years in the US away from the pernicious socialism in Israel. He was also educated in MIT, a bastion of capitalism in America, and worked for the Boston Consulting Group along with Mit Romney.
Fortunately for America, Donald Trump came along, uncontaminated by the government rot, and who had greatly benefited from capitalism. He also loved America and his family. The people in America recognized these values and voted him into the Oval Office. In the two years he has been in office he has done more for restoring America’s greatness that any president in the last half century has done in two full terms.
Both Bibi and Trump are strong supporters of nationalism and reject globalism. Together they are rallying many other countries to join their cause. At this reading, it looks like the nationalists are winning.
Nisan makes acute observations when describing the Oslo debacle and its aftermath, the disengagement disgrace and the battle over the passing of the nationality law. You will want to read his every word.
Ted Belman, now living in Jerusalem, is an author appearing in many publications, editor of Israpundit, and is also a retired attorney.