There’s a refreshing openness in a new online magazine, The Tel Aviv Review of Books — an English-language review of Israeli books (whether or not translated into English). Among its intriguing contents in its December (inaugural) issue are separately authored reviews of two new Hebrew works on the decline of Israel’s left: Collapse—The Disintegration of the Political Left in Israel by Tzvia Greenfield and The Left-Wing’s Sorrow: Yossi Beilin and the Demise of the Peace Camp by Avi Shilon. The articles by Ben-Dror Yemini, primarily a journalist, and Naomi Chazan, an academic whom many of us may remember as a former Meretz Member of Knesset and a much-maligned former president of the New Israel Fund, are posted in tandem as: “‘Duel Review’: What Happened to the Israeli Left?”
Both reviewers think highly of Yossi Beilin, a key operative of the Oslo Peace Process and a veteran Labor politician who later headed Meretz, but the article by Prof. Chazan is perhaps the more measured of the two. Judging without direct knowledge of the books, it appears that both the author Greenfield and reviewer Yemini see the Israeli left as fatally flawed by a “split personality” with it taking on a more strident anti-Zionist direction. Chazan sees the anti-Zionist element as more of a fringe.
There is also a difference of opinion on who is most responsible for the failure of the peace process, with Greenfield and Yemini finding more fault with Arafat and the Palestinians, and author Shilon and reviewer Chazan seeing it more problematic that Ehud Barak denounced Arafat and discredited the peace-making process immediately after the Camp David Summit of 2000 ended without a final agreement.
Atypically and unusually, Greenfield is a Haredi woman who briefly served in the Knesset as a Meretz MK. Not atypically, Yemini describes himself as someone on the Israeli left who became disillusioned. There is indeed an anti-Zionist pro-one-state camp within the left as they describe (click here for a review of a book by two such leftists named by Yemini), and it may have become more significant numerically as the self-identifying left contracts in cohesion and electoral power. It’s unfair, however, to regard activist peace and civil rights groups like Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem as uniformly and irretrievably anti-Zionist.
Still, with regard to the mainstream center-left, Labor seems to have hit a new nadir with the sudden breakup of its Zionist Union alliance with Tzipi Livni’s party. Most attention in the opposition now focuses upon politicians in “the center,” primarily Yair Lapid and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, with the latter forming a new party on the center-right in alliance with another former IDF chief of staff and Likud ex-cabinet minister Moshe Ya’alon. (New parties proliferate in Israel like mushrooms after a summer rain, as even Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have just split from the Jewish Home to form their “New Right” party.) While these are all figures who command a following, it’s likely that none prioritize making peace with the Palestinians.