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What is Left of the Israeli Left? (1948-2015)

Essays and Interviews 22.1
Ilan Pappé

The division between the Left and Right in Israeli politics is quite unique in world politics. Whereas the term left often indicates a socialist worldview of society across the overwhelming majority of the world, the Left, or Zionist Left, has a rather different connotation in Israel. The identification of a person or a group as leftist in Israel depends on their position vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly with regard to the question of Palestine. The essence of this leftist position is a willingness to territorially compromise with the Arab world over the Israeli territories occupied during the June 1967 war, and it is quite often accompanied by a greater loyalty to secular values (which most Israelis see as equivalent to democratic values). Since Left does not represent a complete social or economic perspective, people and factions can be grouped together as leftists even if they do not share a socialist point of view or an identity with any of the disadvantaged groups in Israeli society. Moreover, since the leftist identity is centered on two narrow themes—a concrete position vis-à-vis the occupied territories and a greater belief in secularism—the Israeli Left does not actively support groups such as the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, who are among the poorest in the state.