What’s left of the Israeli left?

by Chris Bertram on October 23, 2003

I heard an interesting paper last year from Yael Tamir which stressed what a good predictor class is of party allegiance in Israel. Things there are “the wrong way round”, though, with the workers voting for the right. So I was interested to read “this Ian Buruma piece from the Guardian”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1068681,00.html on the Israeli left, and what remains of it.



Danny 10.23.03 at 11:31 am

I think that the phenomenom of cultural-religous considerations being more important when explaining voting behavior than economic ones is not unique to Israel. In the USA and in Canada, the more left wing party (Democrats & Liberals, respectively) enjoys the support of the cities while the more conservative parties have their base of support in the countryside, even though the cities are wealthier. I think I’ve seen statistics that in the US the upper-middle class vote more left-wing than the class immediately under them.


Matt McIrvin 10.23.03 at 2:25 pm

It might even be possible to predict that this will happen eventually in a political situation with something like a left-right axis: the party that economically favors the wealthy simply won’t survive unless it makes a religious or cultural appeal to poorer people, and then the left will react to that by favoring cultural positions held by richer people.

Just an idea off the top of my head, which is probably neither valid nor original.


Barry 10.23.03 at 3:32 pm

It might not be original, and it might not prove to be the case, but it’s a very good hypothesis.


Conrad Barwa 10.23.03 at 6:33 pm

I assume that this would have something to do with the heavy influence of Askenazis on the nation-building project in Israel for most of its history and the foundational role of Labour Zionism in establishing the Israeli state. This story has some more (quite partisan) analysis on the issue as does this one ; in anycase given the subordination of traditional leftist goals to national ones, it may not make all that much difference in the Israeli political spectrum, as in most places in Asia, the mainstream Left has only (for the most part) done well politically when it operates within the nationalist discourse or is the main vehicle for successful nationalist aspirations.


pathos 10.24.03 at 12:37 am

What “happened” to the Israeli left is very simple: they failed.

It is not at all complicated. The left made an offer to the Palestinians for peace. Irrespective of what you think of that offer, it was far more than the Israelis were expecting to be offered. Most were horrified that so much was to be given up.

Then, Arafat refused the last, best offer and launched the second entifada.

That left voters with two choices: (A) Offer even MORE, or (B) recognize that the left’s strategy of negotiation with the Palestinians had failed. Reasonably, very few took Option A.

Any time any party’s policies fail, it is only reasonable to give the opposition a chance.


Former Belgian 10.25.03 at 12:42 pm

One development Ian Buruma pays no real attention to is the rapid rise of the Shinui (“change”) party. Shinui is best known for its rabid anticlericalism (which many people confuse with being anti-religious), but, judging from my personal observations, gained votes from a lot of people who are totally fed up with ideological grandstanding from both “left” and “right”. Shinui takes a “pragmatic center” position in the Arab-Israeli conflict and unapologetically projects itself as the electoral voice of Israel’s middle class. It is avowedly Western in its cultural outlook, which has become almost a dirty word among the Israeli “left” and “right” alike.

Israel still has a Communist party (Hadash) which is de facto Arab. The far-left Meretz has degenerated into a “limousine looney left” to the point of parody-proofness. The syndicalist party led by Histadrut chief Amir Peretz (a.k.a. Amir, melekh ha-leitzanim) is, like the Histadrut itself these days, not looking out for the interests of “the worker” but for the “entitlements” of overpaid and underemployed employees in government-owned and quasigovernmental companies. The real blue collar workers that I know regard the Histadrut with utter contempt.

Labor is in deep crisis. Mitzna’s attempt to position the party as a “bigger and better Meretz” (i.e. “the piss process” as the answer to everything including the weather) nearly destroyed the party, and as it abandoned its own traditional electoral base, the latter voted with its feet.

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