Lacking a vision of the future, Labor reinvents itself by misreading the past
By Liel Leibovitz|January 30, 2015
Stav Shaffir (Emil Salman/AFP/Getty Images)
Last week a young member of Knesset named Stav Shaffir stepped up to the parliament’s podium and delivered a 3-minute speech that soon became a social media sensation. It was the sort of cri de coeur Capra would have loved: With her shock of red hair, flailing arms, and an innocent conviction all too rare in a legislative body whose members are more likely topour water on each other than pour out their hearts, Shaffir’s speech was a young woman’sJ’accuse.
“You forgot about the Negev and the Galilee in order to transfer 1.2 billion shekel bonuses to the settlements,” she thundered at her colleagues on the right. “You forgot Israel. You lost Zionism already some time ago.”
It was the most eloquent expression to date of the campaign theme Shaffir’s Labor party is hoping will carry it to electoral victory this March. When it was joined by Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua last month, the veteran party changed its name to The Zionist Camp and began arguing that while the settlement-obsessed right has hijacked and corrupted the nation’s founding ideology, it was only Labor, the party of David Ben-Gurion, that could recapture Zionism’s lost vitality and rekindle its original flame.
It may be a winning strategy—The Zionist Camp currently leads the Likud in the polls, 25 seats to 23—but it’s also highly problematic. As students of history know, Zionism is notoriously elusive. Conceived as a movement to create a national homeland for Jews, the ideology had always contained multitudes, accommodating those who believed that Jews should settle only in the Promised Land and those who were willing to settle for Uganda, those who saw Zionism as a cultural undertaking and those who understood it as a socioeconomic quest, those who sought answers in the heavens and those who planted trees in the ground. It could welcome the pragmatist Ben-Gurion and the hardliner Jabotinsky, the agnostic Nordau and the pious Rabbi Kalischer. It was, by design, extremely elastic.
As such, Labor’s attempt to redefine Zionism with its own narrow political agenda is an affront to the very thing that has kept the movement vibrant and successful. And it’s more than a small slight: Look deep in the heart of Zionism, and you’ll find a spiritual core that Labor’s current pronouncements have all but extinguished.
To better understand this argument, begin with the following experiment: Mosey over to any part of Italy, and ask anyone you meet whether or not they define themselves as Garibaldists. Most likely, they’d laugh—Italians, in 2015, do not define themselves in terms of a 19th-century nationalist liberation movement.
But Israelis do. That they continue to self-identify as Zionists even long after a Jewish state has been established tells you that they believe, as their founding fathers believed, that Zionism, more than a simple pragmatic political movement, is a thoroughly messianic one whose goal isn’t just to build a homeland for the …read more