American Jews Israel Israeli Labor Party Israeli occupation Israeli settlements

The Labor Party’s new flirtation with the settlers

I don’t think there is much chance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without a revival of the parliamentary left –or at least left-center– in Israel, the development of a powerful and consequential counterweight to the aggressive right. (Of course, there is not much chance of resolving it even if there were such a revival, but a more powerful peace camp would certainly increase the odds of a breakthrough).

That is why Noam Sheizaf’s article in about the new, official face of the Labor Party is so sad. The piece is entitled “Here is your peace camp: Labor’s supportive visit to the settlements:”

Last week, members of the Labor party, including the party’s Secretary-General Hilik Bar and several advisers to Knesset Members and ministers, went on a visit to the West Bank. Labor members visited the Barkan industrial park, the Ariel academic center and several settlements in the area of Nablus, east of Israel’s security barrier and well outside what is sometimes referred to as “the settlements blocks”. The tour was hosted by the head of the Yesha Council (the settlers’ representative body), Danny Dayan.

The article then cites a report by right wing journalist Hagai Huberman, who covered the visit:

Hilik Bar, the new secretary general of the Labor Party, surprised his hosts by saying: “Judea and Samaria is the land of our fathers and the Bible, and the Labor Party and its members are not disconnected from what this region represents, historically and religiously. We should all stay true to the legacy of the nation’s Fathers and Mothers, and pass it on from generation to generation. Labor belongs to the center and not to the far left […] we feel closer to the settlements’ people here than to the far left.”

While Mr. Bar’s hosts might have been surprised by these remarks, those who know Labor have given up hope on this party a long time ago. Labor, it should be reminded, never evacuated a single settlement. In fact, the colonization of the West Bank started on the party’s watch back in the seventies, and a decade ago, under Ehud Barak’s short lived government, the settlements prospered in ways Binyamin Netanyahu could only dream of. Mr. Bar – a former adviser to Labor’s strongman Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer – is right: in visiting the West Bank’s settlements, he simply follows the party’s line.

I think Sheizaf is being a bit harsh and simplistic by calling settlement expansion the “party line” of Labor. Labor Party leaders didn’t want the settlements to expand in the 1990s. Some, notably Yitzhak Rabin, stood up to the settlement movement. But for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with political expediency, Labor acquiesced. They caved in.

That’s all dirty water under the bridge. It really doesn’t matter, at this point. What matters is that, while a few brave souls are trying to reconstitute the left wing of Labor and calling for the party to leave the coalition government, others appear to be leading it steadily to the right. In another post, Sheizaf points out that most Labor MKs were conspicuously absent when the Knesset recently voted to probe human rights NGOs.

Who in the world is going to vote for that party? Why –other than the perks of power that are enjoyed by a dwindling number of Knesset members– does it exist?

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