Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Where is the Left?

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After Oct. 7, the country, if not exactly united, understood that the very public split over the anti-democratic laws being forced through the Knesset had been a signal to the Hamas that the time was ripe for an invasion. Our vigilance on our borders had been weak, our air-force pilots had refused to show up for training exercises, and our anger was turned inward.

On Oct. 8, our differences were supposedly forgotten. “Together we’ll win,” appeared on every corner in blue and white, the reserve soldiers were in back in uniform carrying guns and flying planes, and we braced ourselves for the inevitable war. Even those of us on the more pacifist left understood that retaliation for the massacre was justified and Hamas, which had turned an entire county into a weapon against Jews, was a real threat to our very existence.

Today, eight months later, our country is more fractured than ever. Even the protestors are splitting into factions: Bring the Hostages Home; Take Down the Government; End the War; Get Rid of Yariv Levin. Or, if you are a member of the 20% who sign up for yeshiva studies instead of serving the country, you might be protesting to the high court’s rejection of a law that would give you a free pass for life.

Benny Gantz and his faction issued an ultimatum to the government. Now that the deadline for his ultimatum has come due, he finds himself backed into a corner. If he quits, it will have little effect, as Bibi still has solid coalition backing that allows him to keep the war going indefinitely. If he stays, it will have little effect. Gantz’s demand to create a plan to end the war is unmet, and it will remain unmet either way. If he stays, he will only remain relevant in getting the restraints on the hostage negotiators loosened. If he goes, he will only remain relevant if he takes a firm stand on the need to bring down the present coalition and call new elections, and if he takes action to bring about that change. He needs, in other words, to remake his wishy-washy image and become a real leader.

In the meantime, opposition leader Yair Lapid, in a television interview, mumbled that his party would provide a safety net for any hostage deal (in the case that the ultra-right-wing parties Otzma Yehudit and the National Religious Party quit the coalition over deals they call “capitulation”).

The true political left has shrunk to the already shriveled Labor Party, now headed by Yair Golan, and Hadash, the communist-Arab coalition. Meretz had already quietly sunk into a swamp of irrelevance and does not seem likely to arise again. The center-left opposition is enervated; they have not presented us with new ideas or plans; they stay away from protests by request, to keep them from being identified with a political party.

Even as sniping resumed in the political arena, the family of Yoram Metzger, who was reported killed in Gaza, was interviewed on the news. “No members of the Knesset came to speak to us,” they said. “Only President Herzog, once the deaths were confirmed, made an official call.

That is, no members of the reigning coalition called them, but neither were members of the opposition by their sides. Do these representatives not have a responsibility to the families of hostages and those freed from captivity?

Where, I ask is the left?

It is on the streets protesting every day.

But it is barely present in the Knesset. I want to see more yelling – even fist-fights if need be. I want my few representatives to be saying, out loud: “We are no longer in this all together. Find a way to end the war. Start – this minute – negotiating with the countries and authorities who can provide a day-after, exit strategy.” We need Knesset members who are out on the streets every day, who are in hostage square speaking with families, who are traveling to the Gaza border towns to talk with those who are returning because they cannot afford to stay away, who are traveling to the North to speak with those living under fire from Hezbollah rockets, who are going from hotel to hotel to speak with displaced citizens.

As the war becomes a mire, I see a great many people joining the left, at least ideologically. The danger to our democracy has gone from a threat to our justice system to the reality of a war dragged out for the benefit of one person.

Metzger’s wife and sons, still looking shell-shocked but quietly forceful, said: “We have asked that no soldiers risk their lives to bring back our father’s body. He is gone, and nothing can change that fact.” They were regal in their request, in their quiet grief, and no mere politician could come close to touching them. And yet, I asked myself why not one member of one of a left-wing party had shown up to stand by their side, to speak to a request to save lives rather than take more of them.

I still believe this government’s days are numbered. I believe the accounting we must do as a nation will soon be upon us. I believe the present leadership must be held accountable. What I am less sure of is whether the left will have leaders who will be capable of taking on the rage and frustration of those now taking to the streets and building a true party that can represent us and influence the outcome.

The left is on the streets. But we need parties preparing for the Knesset “day after,” who are prepared to take bring the anger of the streets into the seats of power. We need a true political left, and we need them them right now.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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