A week ago in a caf’ in Tel Aviv I met an old friend from high school, a proud former Jerusalemite who has lived in the City of Lights for more than thirty years now. Like many of his fellow exiles, he reads the newspaper Kol ha-‘Ir at every opportunity, and makes no secret of how much he misses Jerusalem. After each one of us had questioned the other and we had related not only the events of our lives, but also the fate of most of our friends from the “29 November” school, my friend told me that for some time he has been detached from Israel and from everything associated with “this state”. His parents died a few years ago, and since then he has had no connection to our city, Jerusalem, and he has become entrenched in his profession in Tel Aviv, without a wife, without children, without siblings, and as said, without parents too. “I often read you”, he told me, “and it is hard to understand who you work for. If you support most of the demands of the Palestinians, and dream of a society of equality, then what do you want with this oppressive state, its coarse and vulgar residents and its future in this rotten region?” I didn’t get angry. I understood what he meant and I was not willing to tell him that I have four children and even a grandchild, and therefore I could not adopt his alienated approach to the future. He just smiled and said that I always talked in a pessimistic style, but lived like an optimistic man. There is something to that.
Many members of my generation, and even people much younger than they, are gradually losing their empathy for Israeli society. More and more people are washing their hands of what happens here as if they were tourists from Norway. And it’s not just confirmed Marxists, or anarchists who work day and night against the malignant Occupation. Apathy has spread mainly among the “pinks,” who used, in the not distant past, to meet members of their social group at the moderate demonstrations of Peace Now. Many of them lost their faith in political activity, within the Knesset or outside it, and they are now examining options that will permit them to avoid dealing with reality, whether political or socio-economic.
The “pinks” focus mainly on corruption, in order to disguise the fact that it is quite different factors that led them to abysmal despair. The reasons for this are clear enough: they refuse to acknowledge the compromise they made with the nationalist centre and the extreme right regarding the settlements when they abandoned the hope that a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories would lead to real peace. They have suppressed the fact of their social apathy, their “sobering-up” from the socialist dream, and even the quiet burial of the social-democratic vision, because their bourgeois-ness shaped their consciousness anew. Indeed Karl Marx predicted that development many years ago, but the Israeli “pinks” know nothing about the writings of Marx. Therefore they refuse to acknowledge that their way of life has seduced them into nurturing the American dream.
I remember Mapai intellectuals in the 1950s who studied in London and read the left-wing weekly New Statesman. The weekly is still excellent (I read it regularly and even write for it sometimes), but it is hardly known in Israel despite the hundreds of copies that were sold in the past. Academics with English and French orientations are still with us, but their influence is in decline. Advanced study in the United States, the post-doctorates and the cushy jobs beckon to the new elites, and this way of life even leads to the adoption of conservative positions. Supporters of the Democratic Party too underwent a process of right-wing assimilation regarding socio-economic matters. In their eyes Israel is no longer a unique social-democratic utopia, and they have abandoned their faith in the very soundness of that vision. Long gone are the days when the “pinks” took pride in the kibbutz movement, and saw the kibbutzniks as like-minded partners in the struggle. All those myths have become cloudy and threadbare, afflicted by selfishness, privatizations, nationalism and even manifestations of anti-Mizrahi and anti-Arab racism. The “pinks” remain part liberal and part conservative, they have nothing to identify with, and they see life in Israel as a kind of predetermined fate, as if they had been sent by the master of history to some squalid penal colony.
The “pinks” look around them, and the horizon looks perpetually dark and gloomy: millions of Muslim Arabs surround them, supported by millions more in the non-Arab Muslim world. Israeli society is inundated by foreigners, Russians, Mizrahis, Arabs and Haredis, with whom they had not sat around the campfires, and they don’t know the “Friendship Song” that Yitzhak Rabin loved so well. The Hebrew language is scarcely legal tender throughout the world and nearly all the “pinks” have a good command of English. It is easier for them to chat on Messenger with a buddy in Berkeley, Yale or Oxford than with an Israeli of Russian or Mizrahi origin, never mind an Arab. Therefore they no longer believe that they will be able to import the American dream here, and they aspire to realize it in the United States itself. “My heart is in the west, and I am at the ends of the east,” exactly the opposite of the words the poet Yehuda Halevy wrote in far-off Spain.
Hence also intolerable political ambivalence that they have experienced in the past decade. Indeed the nationalist centre reflects the essence of their lives, but it does not excite them nor is it consistent with their “enlightened” self-image. The two main parties are equally deficient and disappointing. Under the leadership of Ehud Barak the Labour party became much more hawkish than Kadima, and it is in essence nearly identical to Likud. Kadima itself is afflicted with corruption and is morally and ethically repulsive. It is hard for the “pinks” to identify with the nationalist and neo-liberal rhetoric of Bibi Netanyahu despite the fact (which they do not recognize) that the real gap in political views is negligible.
The temporary solution is to adopt a surly, alienated and bitter pose, like that of Eeyore the Donkey in Winnie the Pooh. Its external manifestation is an expression of disgust at corruption. That is a good liberal subject, and it is very comfortable for such people to rebel in the name of Western values and pure principles. Instead of protesting against the Occupation, of manning the barricades after Gideon Levy has described how our soldiers murdered an Arab youth in cold blood fifteen minutes’ drive from Jerusalem, they bewail the implementation instead of the system itself. Instead of identifying with the dispossessed, single mothers, the homeless and those who are living defenceless in the development towns, poor neighbourhoods and the Arab sector, they prefer to cluck their tongues over this or that crook who has been exposed by the police. Don’t get me wrong: the war on corruption is important from the social standpoint as well, but it should be anchored in comprehensive thinking and a methodical strategy for progress towards radical social change.
If the “pinks” abandon the political and socio-economic battle because of self-indulgence and ideological flaccidity, then the consistent Left cannot allow itself to imitate them. We have a completely different agenda, defined local, regional and global objectives and an approach of equality for all human beings. We are acting here and now, with and for all Israelis who live with us, and also for all the tens of millions who live beside us. The Egyptians, the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Jordanians, the Iraqis and the Saudis will always be our neighbours, not only accidental enemies that we stumbled across on our journey to Boston or San Francisco. The Mizrahim, the Arab citizens, the Russians and the Haredis are human beings like us, not frightening mutations that we must distance ourselves from and isolate our children from at any price. The social structure must be made here, and the peace that will permit us to dedicate our resources to social goals must be made in this region and receive the approbation of the world. The desired equality for all residents of the Middle East will not be achieved without a fight to the death against globalization in collaboration with the global left and every possible ally in this region.
Therefore “left” is not merely the defeatist mindset of sluggards, hedonists and loafers, but an outlook that also includes profound social and human engagement with people who do not think like we do. A true leftist wants his fellow-citizens, both women and men, to live good and full lives here, to cooperate with their neighbours, to enjoy an abundance of cultural activities, excellent health-care and education systems, developed competitive and cooperative sports and to take pride in a society in which human solidarity sets the rhythm and course of life, and not the profit motive and greed that the spin doctors call the “forces of the free market”. The left is not alienated from society, it is not indifferent to its successes and it wants what is good for it. The main role of the small vanguard in the Israeli left is to attract the “pinks” to a new and fruitful social engagement and to bury once and for all the delusional American dream.