Zionism is, and always has been, a rational product of liberal nationalist ideals. Though diaspora Jews for thousands of years mouthed prayers of divine redemption and ‘return’ to Jerusalem, it was the European enlightenment and the rise of egalitarian and socialist currents that inspired ideological young Jewish pioneers to ‘reclaim’ what is today the State of Israel.
The reality today is markedly different, as Israel’s General Elections loom on the 22nd of January. The incumbent right-wing administration is almost certain to return to power, with Benjamin Netanyahu set to become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
Frequently, this phenomenon is labelled Israel’s ‘rightward shift’; pundits often paint long-term reductionist portraits of the dwindling electoral fortunes of Israel’s left-of-centre parties.
The truth is more nuanced: Israel’s Jewish voters are not inherently right-wing nor overwhelmingly harbour annexationist desires vis-à-vis the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The left-wing hegemony over Israel’s electoral politics was total for the first three decades of the young state’s life. In both 1993 and 1999, Israeli voters realised that a political, not military solution, was exigent and necessary to end spiralling violence.
In 2008, the last time Israelis went to the polls, the centre-left Kadima Party emerged as the largest political force in the Knesset, yet were outmanoeuvred by the savvy Netanyahu and sent packing to the opposition.
Today, Israel’s liberal-left is in disarray, with a myriad of parties jockeying for the centre ground, constrained and divided by egoism and Prime Ministerial ambitions, handing an increasingly radical right the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office.
This represents an incremental threat to the Zionist project. The only viable resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict remains a two-state solution that will preserve Israel’s Jewish essence whilst simultaneously avoiding the creation of an apartheid system that annexation, with its demographic realities, would necessitate. This has consistently been the message of Israel’s Zionist left.
Based on the record of the outgoing administration, it is easy to believe their claims. The longer left-wing infighting continues, the further peaceful coexistence within a Zionist framework slips away. Israel’s left is down, but not out: divided, squabbling and disappointing, but retaining a monopoly over the only feasible, Zionist solution to a festering, existential conflict.
Photo credit: IsraelinUSA
Rob holds a degree in Politics and Modern History from the University of Manchester and an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from the Department of War Studies, King's College London. He lives in Jerusalem, Israel, where he works as an Israel Research Fellow, a fellowship scheme awarded to exemplary researchers in Israel Studies. His main research interests are Israeli security, politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict. You can follow Rob on Twitter @RobPinfold