The Collapse Of The Israeli Left

Banner: a photograph of a suite in the King David Hotel in 1930s Jerusalem.

Shortly after noon on July 22, 1946, several men dressed as Arabs entered the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. At that time, the hotel housed the headquarters of the British military in Palestine, as well as the central offices of the British Mandatory government. The men placed 350 kg (770 lbs) of explosives in the La Régence café beneath the hotel, then left into the blistering summer heat outside.

Thirty-seven minutes later, an enormous blast demolished part of the hotel and left 91 people dead, including 21 British government officials and 41 Arabs.

The bombers were members of the Jewish paramilitary organization Irgun.

In the aftermath, the head of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, and the public Jewish political leadership in Palestine, denounced the attack forcefully. A local Jewish newspaper called the Irgun “fascists.” By today’s standards, they could not have been less wrong.

The Irgun and a smaller group called Lehi – or, often, the Stern Gang – were the two violently nationalist Jewish paramilitaries in Mandatory Palestine. They got into political disputes with the mainstream Jewish leadership and defence forces (the Haganah) as often as they got into military conflicts with the British and the Arabs. The Irgun and Lehi massacred Arabs and assassinated high-profile Western targets, such as the British minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, in 1944, and Folke Bernadotte, the official UN mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948.

Lehi was infamous for seeking an alliance with Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy prior to 1942, believing Britain to be the greater enemy to Jewry and apparently salivating at the opportunity to facilitate the mass movement of German Jews to the Land of Israel. Both Lehi and the Irgun were adherents of the ideology of Revisionist Zionism, which maintained that all Jews had a right to enter Israel at any time, and only armed force could secure this right from infringement by the Arabs and the British.

This ideology was in the minority among Jews in Mandatory Palestine, and the two biggest Zionist figures of the time, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, were both members of Israel’s left-wing Labour Party, Mapai.

During the Israeli war of independence in 1948, David Ben-Gurion presided over the announcement of the formation of the State of Israel, and the Haganah morphed into the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The Irgun and Lehi both agreed to disband, surrender their arms, and enlist in the IDF in exchange for a general amnesty. The Irgun tested this agreement, however, and violated it, as well as a UN ceasefire, when they attempted to smuggle arms into Israel from France aboard the Altalena. Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, was awaiting the ship on the shore himself.

The Altalena was sailing near Tel Aviv, and David Ben-Gurion ordered IDF forces on the shore to fire at the ship. Machine guns raked the ship until it caught fire, then kept at it until the crewmembers and passengers were jumping overboard and the Altalena had sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Menachem Begin was hysterical, but Ben-Gurion proclaimed: “Blessed be the gun which set the ship on fire; that gun will have its place in Israel’s War Museum.” Nearly 20 people died in the affair.

Menachem Begin disbanded the Irgun shortly thereafter and did not test the agreement again. Jewish civil war was avoided through David Ben-Gurion’s wise decision to shoot machine guns at defectors until they licked boot heels, and Menachem Begin’s wise decision to lick Jewish boot heels instead of Arab or British boot heels.

David Ben-Gurion remained de facto and/or de jure leader of Israel until 1967, to great acclaim. And yet, though Ben-Gurion, the Labour Party, and the Israeli Left won the battle, going by electoral numbers, Menachem Begin won the war.

Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected Prime Minister of Israel – David Ben-Gurion’s position – in 1996, and has held the position since 2009. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is a direct descendant of the right-wing Herut party founded in 1948 by Menachem Begin, itself the obvious political adaptation of the terroristic Irgun. Herut was founded five days before the Altalena affair. Zionist Union, the successor to the Israeli Labour Party (Mapai) today holds fewer seats than Likud.

In the first Israeli general election of 1949, Herut won fewer seats than the Communist Party of Israel, and less than one third of the number of Mapai seats. Today, the Communist Party is dead and gone, and Herut’s successor Likud is running the government without the Left.

Some research reveals an interesting pattern in Israeli history compared to other industrialized Western nations: the complete and utter collapse of the Israeli Left since the founding of Israel, and the steady ascendancy of the Israeli Right – and not an Anglophone-style milquetoast Right, but a nationalistic and religiously-inclined Right descended from militiamen and terrorists.

Here’s my attempt to numerically chart the collapse of the Israeli Left:

knessetratio

Israel’s proportional representation system has wrought a litany of factional, religious, regional, and ethnic parties since the country’s founding, so I avoided them and focused on the most prominent ideological parties on the Right and Left, and especially on the ancestral lines of Ben-Gurion-Mapai-Alignment-ZU and Begin-Irgun-Lehi-Likud. With the exception of a small blip in the 17th Knesset, when a centrist alliance led by the Left stole a number of Likudniks, the Israeli Left has been in freefall since the 1950s.

The dominant Israeli Left parties were up to 7.5x larger than the Right party in the state’s infancy, yet haven’t surpassed the Right since the dawn of the new millennium.

Menachem Begin first became Prime Minister in 1977, four years after the death of David Ben-Gurion, and beating out Ben-Gurion’s Labour successor Shimon Peres. The man who brought down the King David Hotel and second-guessed the Israeli state as soon as it was established was now its leader. The 1977 election result was termed a “revolution” by a TV anchor.

Less than a decade later, Yitzhak Shamir was elected Prime Minister. Yitzhak Shamir was a Lehi leader prior to the 1948 war. And barely a decade after that, Benjamin Netanyahu first took the office of Prime Minister of Israel.

Why did the Israeli Left fall out of power? I am not yet sure of the reason why, but a couple explanations worth exploring come to mind.

One possibility is that the early dominance of the Left was due entirely to its status as a set of institutions under the command of great men like David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, and a number of their peers and contemporaries like Moshe Dayan and Yigael Yadin. The rule of this set of Jewish leaders lasted from roughly around the 1930s to the mid-1970s, corresponding almost perfectly to the predominance of Mapai et al.

It would not be hard to argue, à la Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man theory of history, that the institutions of the Israeli Left were just manifestations of the tenacious leadership of a small group of Israeli Jews. Menachem Begin outlived David Ben-Gurion, and took over the Israeli state to the best of his ability, setting up his descendants in power.

Another possibility is that Israel’s Jewish demographics shifted concretely to the Right in the 50 years following independence. One of the articles I found that noticed the phenomenon blamed the influx of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews and Jews from the USSR. The author’s reasoning is dubious to say the least, but it is possible that the founding stock of Israel, in large part kibbutz-working socialists from Central Europe and Germany, was decisively altered by these newcomers with very different ideas about politics, nation, identity, and the Arab menace.

Trails of international Jewish money and influence are also necessary to explore. Israel was founded in no small part thanks to an enormous non-profit, the Jewish Agency, that collected funds for emigration, settlement, weapons, farm equipment, machinery, etc. The Rothschild family funded Jewish settlement in Palestine in the 19th century. French, American, British, Soviet, and Czechoslovakian support were all crucial at different points in Israeli history. The Jewish diaspora has arguably been more important to Israel than the settled population itself.

Dissident rightists of all stripes should pay attention to Israel and to Israeli history. The conjuring of an ethnonationalist state in hostile enemy territory in less than a century is not the only interesting thing about the Jewish state. Its dying Left and ascendant Right in a time period when the opposite happened in all Western countries is also something very peculiar. Who will control Israel in 50 years’ time? It will not be the socialists, communists, or progressives. By all accounts, it will be the nationalists, the conservatives, and the hardline religious Jews. It may be a very different Israel from the one envisioned by its founders.

Israel’s Left collapsed like the King David Hotel, and Menachem Begin laughed all the way to the Prime Minister’s office, and then all the way to Israel’s future.

Mark Yuray is verified on Gab. Follow him there and on Twitter.

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13 Comments

  1. A fine piece. If NRx’s vision is to succeed, it must be able to roll with the punches, punch back every now and then, and take a step forward. Nothing will be overnight even after Collapse, but laying the cable in the ground must be foremost on the agenda.

    The idea of Zionism and start of settlement started in the late 19th century and Israeli statehood only achieved at a carefully selected time in 1948. Similar timescales should be expected for this project. Finance networks, ideology construction and debate, colonization, all the stops of the West must be utilized for the Incubation.

  2. Left-wing movements grow by recruitment; right-wing movements grow by having a lot of babies. Thus left-wing movements can grow very big very quickly as long as there is a plentiful supply of open minds waiting to be hijacked.

    Leftism typically breaks out when new technology disrupts the existing social order and makes right-wing ideas seem outdated. But in the long run, only right-wing ideas are self-sustaining, as those unconvinced by leftist memes breed and raise meme-resistant children.

  3. I’m surprised the talk of demographic change mentions the influx of Mizrahis and Russian Jews but not the fact that the Haredim are the fastest growing group in Israel because of their high birth rates, while the secular Ashkenazi left doesn’t breed enough to replicate itself.

    1. While that is true, from my understanding, the Haredim and other hardline Orthodox Jewish groups eschew military service because the State of Israel is nominally secular. IIRC, they also vote for religious parties instead of nationalist/conservative parties, which, while there is some overlap, tend to be separate. The religious parties were allied with Ben-Gurion and the socialists until 1967 (believe it or not), and are definitely cladistically unrelated to Irgun, Herut, Likud, Begin, etc.

  4. I would say that the main driver behind the collapse of the idealistic left in Israel is that as time went on, more and more Israelis were born into a situation that can be described as eternal low-level violent cconflict. I can see it within my own Ashkenazi, formerly wholly leftist family. It is simply untenable to both see the situation practically, serve in the IDF, and at the same time keep being genuinely left-winged. The only truly left-leaning Jewish people I meet nowadays have either never served in the army or are genuinely insane.

    1. I find it absolutely fascinating that you bring up service in the military as a full damper on leftism.

      1. It makes sense. Combat service is especially something that makes everything much more “practical” for those involved. Almost every single Israeli combat soldier had or will have to take part in a varied amount of operations if not outright wars throughout his lifetime of service. Put in a life-or-death scenario, what kind of person would be willing to then swallow leftist Utopianism, especially as it pertains to our dear cousins (the Arabs)? It gets tiring quite fast.

        Conflict naturally leads to realism; and realism, I would say, is inherently reactionary.

        1. What is fascinating to me are the mental gymnastics necessary for bleeding heart Diaspora Jews to (a) push leftist and multiculturalism for the West and (b) push nationalism and tribalism for Israel.

          I imagine race guilt (for not making aliyah) forms a significant part of it, as well as a shameful sense of personal decadence and weakness as compared to manly Jews in Israel.

          It does make for strange people, like ex-American, ex-Israeli, now-Swedish Barbara Lerner-Specter.

  5. I think that Jewish Identity is another factor that is not mentioned. Once the secular, leftist Kibbutzniks, who pioneered the settlement of Mandate Palestine, achieved a state pursuant to the UN partition and subsequent War of Independence (which they lost IMO), they figured their work was done. They had lost Jerusalem and many did not want to get it back. Many in the Mapai leadership despised those who saw Jewish identity forever intertwined with Judaism and the desire to live in and identify with Jerusalem (as well as Judea and Samaria). Those ‘great leaders’ cited in this piece also became complacent and corrupt, and the aftermath of that trend was the debacle of October 1973.

  6. Yasser Arafat and Palestinian politics surely had something to do with it. Without a plausible negotiating partner for a serious peace treaty, what did the Left have to offer in the biggest single issue facing Israel?

  7. The article is excellent but there are certain errors and clarifications needed.

    1. The bombing of the King David Hotel was carried out by the Etzel but with the approval of Ben Gurion and the Haganah. As this was during the brief period when the Haganah fought the British instead of cooperating with them.

    2. The Provisional government led by Ben-Gurion had agreed to the weapons ship the Altelena coming in. When the Mapai leadership realized the weapons and fighters would be used to save Jerusalem they panicked, and with Menachem Begin onboard it was decided to try to wipe out the only figure of sufficient stature to challenge Ben Gurion for leadership.

    3. Following the massacre, Begin escaped to the Etzel radio station and ordered his followers to lay down their arms. All Etzel and Lehi forces outside Jerusalem were then absorbed into the IDF.

    4. The general amnesty came later in fact numerous Etzel and Lehi leaders were arrested and imprisoned for a time. This turned Natan Yellin-More, one of the three Lehi commanders to begin his turn against Zionism.

    5. The true possible coup was much earlier right after the British announced their plans to pull out. When Lehi commander Yisrael Eldad attempted to organize an overthrow of Ben-Gurion’s government. The other Lehi commanders would only go along if Begin would give his support. Which Begin refused saying he would never fight his fellow Jews. The Etzel and Lehi’s combined organizations were larger and far superior as fighting forces to the Haganah at this point.

    6. The Lehi was a fascinating group as they were the most religious of the pre-state militias, embraced economic populism and were staunch Monarchists.

    7. In answer to your question of what as brought down the Israeli left I believe I have a possible answer. Leftism is inherently irrational and requires complete cultural control to push out any opposition to become and maintain dominance. In Israel most cultural institutions were and to a lesser extent today are Leftist, with one exception: The rabbinate. Despite fortunes and decades of effort the Rabbis are by and large loyal to the the Torah, the people and the land. This has acted as an effective bulwark to resist the Left.

    8. The nationalists and religious have made great efforts with some success to infiltrate and take over cultural institutions. If the success in Israel is to be repeated elsewhere first you must regain control of your priesthood, then work to take over other cultural nerve centers.

    9. The Left and moderate right is increasingly afraid of certain portions of the army which are dominated by the religious such as Nachal Charedi, and Dukhifat. They fear a coup and the establishment of a Torah state. A reasonable fear.

  8. Just to pick at some of your (mostly minor) errors:

    1. The Lechi never committed massacres, and the Etzel/Irgun (ארגון צבאי לאומי) didn’t under the leadership of Begin, whom many Alt Right and NRx types would have called a “cuckservative” because he was so fundamentally committed, like Jabotinsky, to liberal parliamentary values, even when they worked against his aims.

    2. It is definitely worth mentioning the alleged Lechi attempt to make an alliance with Nazi Germany, because it’s such an interesting historical fact, but it’s also highly overblown. It was never a serious thing.

    3. Lechi was not really Revisionist-Zionist. Lechi members and leaders included communists, haredim, nationalists, self-styled fascists, anarch-anti-imperialists and others.

    4. Revisionist-Zionism didn’t have an “only armed force” approach by any means. Their ideology was “political Zionism” (Jabotinsky’s idea was to “revise” Zionism by returning it to the original political Zionist movement that Herzl had founded), meaning they wanted to use diplomacy to negotiate the creation of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Obviously that isn’t what the Lechi wanted, and in any case, after May 1939, everyone could see that it was not realistic.

    5. Chaim Weizmann was not a leader in Mapai; he was a leader in the General Zionists (ציונים כלליים), the “centrist” party that was in the pockets of the left. Another branch of the General Zionists later joined with Herut, which had been founded by Etzel veterans, to form Gahal (גוש חרות וליברלים) and then merged with others to form Likud.

    6. You have a highly distorted misunderstanding of the basic elements of the Altalena affair. There was no “amnesty,” because Etzel and Lechi weren’t in any kind of rebellion against the State of Israel, which was a month old at the time and which controlled very little territory: they supported the new state and wanted it to succeed. On the contrary, Etzel’s agreement with the state vis a vis the Altalena was that the majority of the arms aboard the ship would go directly to the army, and that a minority of the arms would go to Etzel units that would join the army in groups. The Etzel were not in violation of their agreement; nor were they bound by the UN ceasefire. Nor were they smuggling the weapons; the ship was very public.

    7. It’s also worth adding that the arms aboard the Altalena would have been enough to win the entire war, capture Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria *and* create an entirely different demographic reality. Ben Gurion’s decision *not* to play ball with the Etzel cost many thousands of lives, got Israel into “Auschwitz borders” that directly led to multiple further wars and created repercussions that still, to this day, nobody has been able to solve. It was a colossally foolish mistake that could only have been done by a colossally shortsighted and petty man.

    8. Ben Gurion didn’t say what you quoted about the “War Museum.” He said that the “blessed” cannon should have a place in the *Third Temple*, a vastly more emotionally potent line, since those were days of intense conflict and since intense conflict would be necessary if a Third Temple were ever going to be built.

    9. Rather than preventing a civil war, another way of looking at the affair was that Ben Gurion in fact *created* a state of civil war when there had been none before, and when nobody else wanted one.

    10. Israel’s communist party is not dead and gone. Maki (מק”י) was the communist party then, and Maki still exists as part of Hadash (חד”ש‎‎), which is part of the Joint (Arab) List. The communists are represented in the Knesset with five seats out of 120.

    11. It’s surprising that you didn’t mention Yitzhak Rabin’s role in the Altalena Affair, since he became so important later on.

    On to the meat of the matter. The origins of the rise of the Israeli right have to do with a political realignment that began in the late 1960s, after the conquest (כיבוש) specifically of Judea and Samaria, which could have been achieved in 1948-9 but which was left unfinished.

    The religious Zionist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s began to “grow up” a bit and understood that they were capable of leadership at the national level, or at least that they would be one day, and didn’t need to carry water for Mapai. At the same time, there was a tremendous religious revival with elements of hardcore, even vaguely apocalyptic, nationalism. Religious Zionists also saw Israel’s shocking victory in the Six Day War as self-evidently a sign from heaven about what their purpose and mission ought to be. Though the early Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria were founded and led by Mapai types, the backbone of the settlement movement was deeply religious Zionist.

    Maybe these changes in religious Zionism didn’t *necessarily* make it leave its alliance with the left and create a new alliance with the right, but by the mid 1970s it was clear that the right – which had favored territorial maximalism back to the early 1920s, which was generally friendlier towards religious tradition, and whose members retained a belief in mission and purpose – would make a better home. So that’s what happened.

    There’s a lot more to say about why the right is winning elections in Israel and why the left is losing – some of it has to do with personalities, and a lot of it has to do with demographics – but I think one more point is necessary, and particularly germane to the mission of reactionaries outside Israel, and of the broad dark enlightenment coalition.

    The Oslo Accords in 1993 happened due to leftist subversion and the agreement was rammed through a series of highly shady votes in the Knesset, was implemented over the next few years, and led to an unprecedented campaign of bus bombings. When the people of Israel finally had an opportunity to express their opinions on the matter in 1996, they voted for Netanyahu and Likud. But “land for peace” continued anyway, and for several elections in a row, the incumbent party was thrown out and the challenging party given an opportunity to stop the madness. Only Ariel Sharon was able to coalesce enough power around himself to win multiple elections in a row.

    Leftists called the war that started in September 2000 “the Second intifada,” so that’s how it got reported in the international press, but many Israelis, and *especially* many right wing Israelis, understood it to be “the Oslo War” (referring to the Oslo Accords that led to it) or “the Temple Mount War” (referring to what they believed ultimately the conflict was regarding).

    The patriotism generated by this conflict was *nothing* like what Americans of the current generation are accustomed to. Every Israeli had a relative, a friend, a classmate, an army comrade or a neighbor killed or maimed by outrageously senseless violence. Everyone felt that the government wasn’t doing enough to prosecute the war. Everyone wanted the army to be allowed to do what was necessary to win.

    Oslo was based on a lie – the lie of peace, the lie that our enemies are actually our “peace partners,” the lie that they wanted peace with us, that they were normal humans who love their children, that they would ever be willing to tolerate our presence in our country. And when this lie started to unravel, it exposed lots of other lies. One of them was the lie of elections: Netanyahu won in 1996 and he gave away Hevron; Sharon won a bunch of elections and gave away Gush Katif and northern Samaria.

    In democracies, voters have short memories – but they aren’t goldfish. The left had a mandate for *something* after winning the 1992 election, but they went way further than anyone wanted, and dragged the country kicking and screaming behind them, but it couldn’t last forever. And it didn’t.

    Returning above to the point about lies, here is where reactionaries abroad have the most to learn. While Israelis spent a very, very painful couple of decades learning their lessons about who and what our enemies are, they still believed that they could win the international public relations war, and that when they were clearly being victimized, they *would* win it…

    But in the last few rounds of conflict and especially in the 2014 round, something very different happened. Israeli soldiers went into conflict with their smartphones and took thousands and thousands of photographs and videos of what they saw: Hamas shits violating every law of civilized war, fighting without uniforms, using human shields, intentionally causing civilian casualties, basically acting like animals. Because of the most modern consumer technology, particularly Whatsapp, everyone in Israel could see almost everything that was happening, virtually in real time. And it solidified their believe in their own virtue. But at the same time, they saw, on all the international cable news channels and on the internet, completely bogus and false descriptions, baseless accusations – a different universe in which everything they knew to be true was wrong and they were the bad guys. And they got sick of the lies, sick of the lies, sick of the lies – an expression I heard so many times.

    Why does this matter? The entire dark enlightenment is about people who realize they are being lied to, and they get sick of the lies. Many of these lies can be disproven logically, but that’s very difficult to do, so human experience becomes necessary. Who can say that democracy, equality, republican government, progressivism and leftism have been successes? *Only a liar*.

    Jewish nationalism, which is to say Zionism, is a natural ally of all other non-competitive forms of nationalism, and particularly of European nationalist movements, since there is no overlap in their territorial interests. A lot of people already understand this. But beyond that, the changes in the opinions of Israelis that have happened in *just the past few years* are an extraordinary event that deserve to be studied, since it’s one of the only times in modern history that an entire nation of people have had access to the truth and been able to disprove very widely accepted lies, point by point, based not on logic but on experience.

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