Rami Livni
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 14, 2013 - 1:00am

The election results strengthened the following message: The left's return to power must include its renewed presence in debates about Zionism. To that end, the left must create a new, liberal and up-to-date perception of Zionism. It must be an alternative to the insular distorted Zionism of the right - disconnected from reality - which has served a minority of Jews throughout history.

The arguments over defining Zionism have been at the center of Israeli politics and will remain there in the foreseeable future. Zionism is the state's basic ideological framework, the content that determines the rules of the game. There will be other games, to be played by minor players near the sidelines, but the big game, the game to replace the government, will be played at center court.

But what does left-wing Zionism in the 21st century mean? It doesn't mean drying up swamps, founding new settlements or empowering the Arab parties left out of the coalition. Nor does it mean carrying the Israeli flag to every protest as if it were a requirement on some checklist. Left-wing Zionism means rewriting the rules. It means defining for ourselves what modern Zionism is and convincing the public of the merits of that viewpoint.

That viewpoint sees Israel's future as described by the Zionist dream: The creation of an exemplary society of solidarity that lives in peace, strives for normality, provides sovereignty for the Jewish people and grants opportunities for a good, just and fair life for all its citizens. Without Zionism, the left will find itself at a political and ideological dead end. It won't be able to explain why the land must be divided. It won't know how to explain how some kind of collective interest requires that some Israelis give up their right to privacy or pay more taxes to fund social services, meant mainly for other Israelis.

Without this common denominator, the left won't be able to demand that groups that don't support it submit to the rule of democracy in situations like evacuating settlements or excluding women. The left cannot expect certain sectors of the public to help carry the security burden or provide education that includes core subjects for children.

Zionism, combined in a modern way with universal and Jewish values, is the only path to creating a common, basic political language for religious and secular Israelis alike. The biggest obstacle preventing the leftist vision from altering the foundations of Zionism is that it does not include Israel's Arab citizens.

Some of the thorn, but not all of it, will be removed by the creation of a Palestinian state, which will grant Palestinians the right to define themselves. The left lost the Arab voters who came out in droves for Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and even for Ehud Barak in 1999, not because of its Zionism, but because of its lack of sincerity in guaranteeing peace and equality. With one hand the left held out a promise to resolve the conflict, while with the other it built settlements. It promised an end to discrimination in Israel, while continuing to advance discriminatory and racist policies, which came to a head in October 2000 when 13 Arabs were killed.

Yet despite all this, even today, the polls show that most Arab Israelis recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They oppose the state's Zionist character, but this is because they recognize it as the cause of their economic, social and political troubles. The low voter turnout among Arab Israelis does not represent an ideological boycott of the state, but rather despair over the chances of Arabs being an equal part of the state. That's why the left lost the Arabs.

Aside from strengthening its Zionist foundations, the left must create a pact with Arab citizens based on total honesty and sincerity and a brave understanding of the concept of cooperative citizenship. If it can do this, without giving up on Zionism, the left will be surprised by who joins its ranks.


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