The new Israeli government’s attack on the mechanisms that are supposed to protect minorities is giving all of those who believe in liberal democracy a hard time.
This is a time for unity against the very real threat to the rights of secular Israelis, Arabs, women, LGBTQ+, leftists and any others who are not represented in the new government, and those who oppose the interests of the messianic and ultra-Orthodox settler right that controls it.
Few of us choose to engage in party politics, which is so critical to this struggle. We in the private or third sectors have not dedicated ourselves to parliamentary work in the Knesset for various and possibly justified reasons, but we must support those among us who lead the struggle within the legislative branch of our government.
It’s hard for me to hear the venomous criticism from our camp towards the leadership of the two liberal left parties that remained in the Knesset after Meretz did not pass the threshold: Hadash-Ta’al and Labor.
It is quite clear that Merav Michaeli and Ayman Odeh made political mistakes, but who in our camp did not make mistakes? And how is it possible for someone who is engaged in political action not to make mistakes. As we know, it is far from an exact science.
How is it possible to continuously attack the leader of the only party of the Zionist left in the Knesset. How do we expect to deal with “the right”, which is so united while we damage the legitimacy of the leader of the only party that has a majority of women who promote social and legal justice and that has an outstanding parliamentarian who is also a Reform rabbi who fights for liberal Judaism and a pluralistic state.
The attacks on Merav Michaeli began even before she made the decision not to unite with Meretz, and there is a great deal of misogyny in them. Many Labor Party veterans had a hard time with her feminist leadership since she decided to run for leader of the party. Her insistence on egalitarian Hebrew language is difficult for many, contrary to our habits. We have all sinned by not thinking about the implications of such patriarchal language. Even if it is not easy to change habits, the effort is definitely worth it.
When young women hear all their lives the use of a language that does not include them, how can they strive for equality? When we use the Hebrew term for leaders implying as if only men can be leaders and the term for a secretary that implies that only women can be secretaries, it affects the consciousness of all of us and produces an unequal and masochistic society. Merav Michaeli’s heroic struggle to get us used to speaking in an equal way warrants her winning the Israel Prize, not the disdain that is so often sent her way.
I am also critical, but there are many causes for the disappearance of Meretz, the only party on the Zionist left that was home to many Arabs and Jews, not just Michaeli’s decision not to merge the two parties. I would also prefer that the Labor Party and Merav dealt more decisively with the biggest risk to our future, the ongoing occupation that is leading us to the end of the Zionist dream and is eroding our morals every day in the meantime. But can I erase the last party of the Zionist left in the Knesset because its emphases are different from mine?
Ayman Odeh is also a target for venomous criticisms for his alleged role in the fall of the government of change. I, too, am critical of Odeh’s war against Mansour Abbas’ choice to join the change government. I am also disappointed that the Arab parties failed to unite and that so many votes of Arabs who voted for Balad were wasted. But we must remember that both Odeh and Abbas represent a separate Arab public which is important in our struggle, and that both have a central place in our camp. The fact that Odeh has not yet been invited to the meeting of the leaders of the opposition parties is a serious mistake and indicates that our camp has not yet understood that the Palestinian citizens of Israel must be our partners in the fight for democracy.
We need both the humane religious Muslims that Abbas represents (I wish our religious parties were as liberal as him) and the secular Arab public which holds the banner of peace and equality. Although I am a Zionist and they are not, their success in representing the Palestinian citizens of Israel is critical to the progressive Zionism in which I believe and to the spirit of our Declaration of Independence.
It is imperative that we learn to join hands when things are normal, and certainly when we are in an existential struggle for our democracy. We do not have the privilege of excluding feminists and pro-equality Arabs from our struggle, even if they have made mistakes. We must stand with the few remaining representatives of the left in the Knesset and halt the poisonous criticism towards them.