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Barak’s Exit Reveals Weakness of the Israeli Left

Israeli liberals have never recovered from the failure of the Oslo Accords and the carnage of the second intifada.

by
Benjamin Kerstein

Bio

January 28, 2011 - 12:00 am
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It is true that Barak must shoulder some of the blame for this. The former general is famously inept at the niceties of politics, and there is no doubt that his tendency toward micro-management and his legendary interpersonal obtuseness played a role in his party’s rejection of him. But this is not enough to explain the current crisis in the Labor party, which is, to a great extent, a crisis of the Israeli left in general.

The main reason for this crisis is, in fact, a simple one: For the most part, the Israeli left still has not accepted the massive shift in Israeli attitudes caused by the failure of the Oslo Accords and the carnage of the second intifada. The more cautious, skeptical, and pragmatic outlook of Kadima is far more appealing to center-left Israeli voters today than Labor’s idealistic faith in the peace process and the goodwill of the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, those on the left who have accepted this, and Barak is one of them, are generally considered traitors and collaborators by the true believers in their own parties. The purging of Barak is yet more proof that the Israeli left remains unwilling to deal honestly with its current predicament.

To a certain extent, however, this no longer matters. For decades, the primary dividing line between Labor and Likud was the issue of territorial compromise. This cause has now been taken up by Kadima, and even elements of the Likud are no longer as ferociously opposed to it as they once were. They have now been joined by Barak’s new party, whose ideology remains fuzzy, but one can be assume that it will follow the policies advocated by its leader, which are essentially indistinguishable from Kadima’s.

The Labor party, in other words, and the type of messianic left it represents, is swiftly becoming extraneous to Israeli politics. Whether this latest split will prove to be the death knell for the party is uncertain. But it certainly does testify to the extent that Israeli politics has fundamentally changed over the past decade. There is no doubt that for the party which once dominated every aspect of Israeli society, the fall has been a long and tragic one; all the more so because, as is usually the case, it has been almost entirely self-inflicted.

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Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor who lives in Tel Aviv.
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