What is it that makes so many American reports on events in Israel end up with the question of “the return of the Zionist Left?” Ethan Bronner’s recent story on the cost of living protest in Israel is yet another example of this trend. By cherry picking a few comments and mixing them with the warm memories of Rabin’s government, the recent social justice movement becomes for Bronner the vessel of “a possible opening for the defeated left.”
I can’t help but think that those American who are so obsessed with this question recognize “their Israel” in a certain image that the Israeli left has projected, one which very rarely had anything to do with its actual politics. The result is a constant search for something that was never there. After all, you won’t see so many stories in American press about “a return of the revisionist Right” in Israel, or about Shas.
It’s time to face facts: Rabin’s second government was an historical accident, no more. This was the only time in 35 years that the left won a Knesset majority – and even then, it wasn’t even close to a majority of the Jewish public. Liberalism, in the American sense, never took real hold in Israel.
The current social protest is a unique event with tremendous potential, but if it’s a return to the Jewish democracy dreamland that Americans hope for, you are up for a major disappointment. There won’t be a “return” – all we can and should hope for is something completely new.
UPDATE: And the always-sharp Dimi Reider adds (in an email he sent me):
One of Israel’s major problems is that a part of its policies and character are shaped as a projection of the ideas/fears/ideals of people living very very far away, in a different political context, who construct “Israel” as a kind of an imaginary friends’ world.