January 13, 2023

Israel’s Left: betwixt pathos and panic

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:46 am by yisraelmedad

Israel’s Left: betwixt pathos and panic

Yisrael Medad, Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2023

The mirror-reflected figure staring back at Ze’ev Jabotinsky, as caricatured by ‘Binyamin’ on page 21 in the May 1, 1933 issue of HaShomer HaTzair, the Hebrew-language magazine of Poland’s Zionist pioneering youth movement rigorously committed to secular values and Marxist determinism, was none other than Adolf Hitler. David Ben-Gurion that year also referred to him as “Vladimir Hitler” and in a booklet issued by the Executive of the World League for Labour Palestine in 1933, “The Labour Movement and the Revisionists”, its Section One was entitled “Jabotinsky in the Footsteps of Hitler”.

Of course, this was the era of the pre-state inter-party rivalries, when Betar members sort to break the power of the hegemonic Histadrut Labor Union and cross lockout barriers and when, following the murder of Haim Arlosoroff on a Tel Aviv beach site, members of Betar and the adult Revisionist Movement were violently assaulted in the Palestine Mandate and across Europe and the United States. They also suffered administrative discrimination, notably in the distribution of immigration certificates. But the extreme antagonism continued.

On December 3, 1948, a Letters to the Editor appeared in the New York Times on the occasion of Menachem Begin’s first trip to the United. The letter, in part, read that his Herut political party is “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties…until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state.” That letter was signed by, among 17 others, Hannah Arendt (who had a four-year affair with Martin Heidegger who later was a member and an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi party) and Albert Einstein.

According to a July 29, 1949 JTA report, ten members of the Hashomer Hatzair were arrested for disseminating leaflets in Buenos Aires which termed Menachem Begin who was then visiting the country as a “fascist and murderer.” In 1963, in a letter to poet and journalist Haim Guri, David Ben-Gurion wrote that “Begin is a distinct Hitlerist type” and predicted that if he would ever come to power “he will replace the army and police headquarters with his goons, and rule as Hitler did in Germany.”

The reactions to the Israel’s 37th ruling government coalition seem to be competing with each other as to how more extreme, strident and mind-boggling each can appear. In an interview on Channel 13, former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak term Minister of Justice Yariv Levin’s proposals “an invalid act” that is “the beginning of the destruction of the Third Commonwealth”, “a revolution [led by] tanks”. Speaking to Channel 12 News, Barak said: “If these plans will be realized, we’ll have a formal democracy with no balances. We’ll actually have only one branch of government, and that’s not a democracy”.

On December 27, 2022, Zvi Bar’el published “Zionism is Racism” in Haaretz. The Black Flags cohort which seeks to undermine the government’s “legitimacy” as is written at their Facebook page, issued the following statement hours before the Tel Aviv rally they called: “through Levin, [Netanyahu] announced a regime coup”. And they added, “all our nightmares may come about and there’s but one way to stop them: to go out to the streets.”

The “Standing-Together” group’s advert termed the rally “The March of Anger”. Yet another group, “Mehazkim – Fighting for a Progressive Israel” highlighted the slogan: “the government declared war on the public; the public responds with war”.

Arik Carmon, founder of the Israel Democracy Institute, interviewed in Haaretz on January 6, forthrightly said: “This is comparable to the Weimar atmosphere, before Hitler came to power, when there was a weak democracy.” He then continued and noted that after the Reichstag fire, the National Security Act was passed and asked, “Does that name not remind you of something?”

The legislation Carmon refers to was the “Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich”, which properly translates as the ‘Act for the Removal of the Distress of the People and the Reich’. Why would he purposely seek to mislead the readers while intimating the Likud-led coalition is analogous to the Hitler-led Nazi dictatorship? A poster of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel displayed Minister for Justice Levin under the slogan “the Minister for the Elimination of Democracy”.

Sure enough, Nazi symbols, such as the S.S. lightning bolts, were seen on protest signs on Saturday night’s January 7 demonstration in Tel Aviv.

Writing in Israel Hayom on January 8, Ariel Kahane suggested “News that is foolish, twisted, detached from the truth, and lacks facts, is flooding the media, and no one is saying a word.” All this leads to a situation, he thinks, whereby “many good people fall for these prophecies of panic”.

Is it panic? Or perhaps a pathos of passion in the face of a real threat to Israel’s societal construct and its democratic character? As Hillel Halkin points out in the Jewish Review of Books on January 5, 2023, we’ve heard all these wailings of “fascism” before as when in 1977 Menachem Begin and the Likud came to power.

What purpose was there for Aharon Barak, who University of Chicago Law School Professor Richard A. Posner, then a federal appellate judge, called in 2007 the “Enlightened Despot” in the New Republic magazine, to say: “I see myself neither as an activist nor a conservative. I am sorry to be thought of as bringing this mishap. If killing me would be seen as stopping all this churning, I would be willing to stand before a firing squad.”

A conceivable answer is put forward by Eithan Orkibi of Ariel University that appears in Israel Affairs, Volume 28 Number 6. Dealing with the period of 2015-2019, Orkibi reviews the discourse of Israel’s Left in a rhetorical analysis of its content. His conclusion is that seeking to revive its relevance and failing marginalization as a political force with its ideology in decline, it pursued a messaging of “the Right is a danger to democracy”.

The idea of “peace” as a defining character which then presents the Right as the “war” camp has lost its appeal. The Oslo Process failure, the May 2022 Pogroms and the lack of law and order in the Negev have all but made the Left irrelevant. “Occupation” has been reversed with growing numbers of Israelis feeling themselves under an internal occupation of violence and threats to life and property.

A new theme was required and “democracy under threat” fulfills the need. Orkibi suggests that the Left “restruct[ed] its rhetorical ethos, to rehabilitate its credibility and authority”. Essentially, he writes, it has replaced its self-image.

In my view, feeling threatened, in that the demographics of Israel’s population and the lessening of the pressure to resolve the issue of a Palestinian Arab state were losing them voters, Israel’s Left purposely settled on channeling a “polarizing rhetoric”. Democracy being eradicated or suppressed also aligned them with the growing influence, financially and politically, of the American progressive liberal elements. An early appearance of this alliance was the V15 campaign, partially funded by the State Department through OneVoice, to unseat Netanyahu in 2015.

Israel is now a country whose two most recent former Commanders in Chief of its army entered politics and have made disturbing statements. Gabi Eizenkot, on December 1, 2022, called for a “million people to take to the streets” against the newly-elected government.  Benny Gantz, on his Twitter account on the evening of January 9 threatened that that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be “responsible for civil war in Israeli society”. He added that “This is the time go out en masse and to demonstrate, the time to make the country tremble….against the demolition of democracy and this unbridled, destructive move.”

While one could say that “All’s fair in love, war…and politics”, the panic and the pathos Israel’s Left is displaying at the moment in their crusade to “save Israel’s democracy”, no matter how just they view themselves as being, may possess more unfortunate results, for their ideological coterie as well as for the country.



  1. […] a 1963 letter to poet/journalist Haim Guri, Ben-Gurion wrote that “Begin is a distinct Hitlerist type” and predicted that, if he would ever come to power, […]

  2. […] a 1963 letter to poet/journalist Haim Guri, Ben-Gurion wrote that “Begin is a distinct Hitlerist type” and predicted that, if he would ever come to power, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: