Zeev Sternhell
Haaretz (Opinion)
August 26, 2011 - 12:00am

Be the internal ills of Israeli society as they may, and they are too numerous to count, most of them can be treated and even cured; but the occupation and colonialism are terminal illnesses. Therefore anyone who refuses to understand - as did Shelly Yachimovich in her interview with Haaretz's weekend magazine - that the socialism of masters, and on behalf of masters, is no less ruthless and despicable than the neoliberalism of the rich on behalf of the rich, is not worthy of seeking the leadership of a party that has pretensions of charting the future.

Indeed, in order to achieve quick results in the social sphere, it is possible to take steps that are relatively easy - cancel the tax reductions for companies, raise the tax percentages on high incomes, transfer money from the settlements to the welfare budgets immediately. If it is permitted to impose heavy customs on a small car, it is also permitted to collect luxury tax on a penthouse on the shores of Tel Aviv, or a large yacht in mid ocean. It is reasonable to assume that it is also possible to find a swift way to renew the construction of public housing in the form of small and inexpensive apartments. On the other hand, the occupation is an existential threat - if Israeli society does not find a way to deal with the settlements, there will be an end to the Jewish state.

Already today, Zionism, in the simple and initial significance of the term, has vacated its place to radical and ruthless nationalism that is partially racist and seeped in professed antidemocratic tendencies of the kind that already led to huge disasters in Europe in the previous century.

Traditional Zionism was based on two mainstays. It was a movement to save an entire nation from destruction and expressed the natural right of that nation to self-rule. Both of these goals were achieved with the establishment of the state - that was a special hour of benevolence and it was supposed to put an end to the period of conquering the land. That was also the hour in which Zionism was supposed to absorb the liberal principles of human rights and civic equality. The terrible disaster of the Six-Day War destroyed this possibility when it turned Israelis into lords over another nation whose rights were denied. But our failure to deal with the injustice implicit in the conquest does not justify our coming to terms with it.

Therefore the Labor Party cannot suffice with the role of a pressure group for one issue, be that issue as lofty as it may. Social and political life is not one dimensional; there is no society without politics, there is no economy without political decisions, and there is no worthy life without morals. The correct demand for a revolution, in the way of thinking that will lead to a different social policy, is not cut off from the larger question of freedom and democracy, human rights and the future of the territories; freedom, justice and equality cannot be divided.

Already from the start of the social protest movement, many people have been bothered by the questions: What is the actual significance of the term "justice" to the youngsters protesting in the street? How is it possible to achieve social justice without justice as a universal value? What are the boundaries of justice and its implementation?

In this respect, there was always a big difference between the right and the left in the world, and now also in Israel. The left considers equality to be a universal value, an expression of a human being's right not merely to the freedom to sleep under a bridge but also to the freedom to live a decent life. The left - and this is the big difference between it and the various types of conservatives - does not consider equality to be an element that restricts freedom but rather a different aspect of a human being's right to control his life.

This takes us back to the occupation. Justice is not merely the right to decent housing for Jews, it is also the right to freedom of a nation under occupation. An enormous opportunity for changing the face of Israel's political culture and charting the face of the future will be lost if the flag-bearers of the protest decide to ignore this truth.


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