Where Idealism and Realism Collide: the Israeli Liberals

            April 2013    
Search the Jewish Magazine Site:     

Browse our



Who is Left?


Israel's Left - Ideology or Pathology?

By Fred Skolnik

According to a poll recently published in Haaretz, 37% of Israelis (with another 9% who "don't know") would consider leaving Israel if they had the chance to. Israel is thus the only developed country in the world where the desire to emigrate is as widespread as in developing Third World countries. This is an incredible finding, but also one whose irony is completely lost on Haaretz, for it turns out that the profile of a significant majority of the potential émigrés fits the readership of Haaretz to a tee: secular, Ashkenazi, middle-class, left-wing voters.

Most of the potential émigrés would leave for economic reasons, that is, to advance their careers, get ahead in life, make more money. The dry academic reading of all this is that the further removed one is from one's Jewishness and the more committed to "liberal" and "humanistic" values, the less one feels bound by Zionist values and to Israel itself. Nonetheless, the readiness to abandon one's country at the drop of a hat is a little hard to fathom, especially among people who seem so committed to improving Israeli society. One would never have imagined such a thing.

What is the source of the problem?

The cooption of humanism by the bourgeoisie is as old as the Renaissance and has in fact created the ethos of the Modern West. Historically, the humanists' celebration of the individual provided a perfect rationale for the rapaciousness and self-aggrandizement of the emerging bourgeoisie while the humanists, who were after all the wayward or rebellious sons of the bourgeoisie, found in their patrons the means to maintain the standard of living they had gotten used to in their fathers' houses. This unholy symbiosis, in our time, produced the spoiled children of the New Left.

However, the alienation of the left from national aspirations and its deep resentment of the established order surely has a psychological root as well. The American novelist John Dos Passos expressed this very shrewdly with reference to the Old Left: "Can those men have hated their fathers that much?" Politics, after all, comes from the belly, and at the extremes might fairly be said to have more to do with pathology than with ideology.

The resentment of all forms of authority that characterizes the left, not to mention its self-involvement, does in fact seem to reflect a child's rebellion against whatever figures of authority threaten to crush him. However, the child still wants to eat well and so does the adult that he becomes, however committed he is to social and political justice. Forced to choose between the two, between a very full stomach and his ideals, he chooses the former, and that, I will venture to say, is because the ideals are hollow, masking resentment rather than reflecting compassion, and it is precisely because the Israeli left has no ties to or sympathy for the downtrodden and dispossessed of the Other Israel that it resents the established order on behalf of the Palestinians. For the Israeli left, the Six-Day War was a godsend, just as the Vietnam War was a godsend for the American left, giving to both a focus and an object of hatred - in America, Lyndon Johnson, the archetypal father figure; in Israel, the settler.

It is nevertheless surprising, and in a way disappointing, that the conflict between appetites and ideals has resolved itself in this way. We believed that these people would have the courage of their convictions and want to stick things out, fighting for what they believe in right up to the end. We did not expect them to become sober and respectable so quickly, like so many of America's former hippies (most of the potential émigrés are in the 30-49 age-group). Of course, only a small percentage will actually leave the country, getting cold feet perhaps or never finding a suitable opportunity. What will remain with them, however, is their alienation, their resentment, their inability to identify fully with the state and its institutions or with the Jewish people for that matter, and their dream of a better life in a distant land.


from the April 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.



All opinions expressed in all Jewish Magazine articles are those of the authors. The author accepts responsible for all copyright infrigments.