We are witnessing a seismic shift, a significant upheaval, and a withdrawal from politics by many in Israel. Not only did the hearts of Israelis break on October 7th, but the worldviews of many among us have also been shattered. What will the political landscape look like in the days to come? The left may form a government without Benjamin Netanyahu, while the right will have to deal with the aftermath.
There is a noticeable difference between the two camps that have preserved the classic division between left and right in Israeli politics for the past century. Except for a few outliers who were on the fringes from the start and have since dwindled, there is no longer an Israeli leftwing camp since September 2000.
When former prime minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David and came back to Israel with what became known as the “Al-Aqsa Intifada,” many on the left, who also liked to call themselves the “Peace Camp,” realized that the discussion about territory for peace, the Western solution that they had tried to impose on the Middle East, existed primarily between Labor and Meretz, not with the enemy and neighbor. It is true that it took time for this ideological defeat, filled with good intentions and generations of kibbutzniks who could play a few chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” on an acoustic guitar, to sink in. However, Operation Defensive Shield, led by Ariel Sharon (after a relentless wave of terror attacks), already gained near-consensus, accompanied by the steady decline in the number of mandates for the only parties that dared to call themselves “left”: Labor and Meretz.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on what these two parties were: Meretz reached its peak with 12 mandates, and the Labor Party, even during the days of Mapai (its earlier version), had over forty mandates. The last Labor leader to form a government was Ehud Barak, and that was almost 25 years ago. The left of recent years has mostly been a figment of the right’s imagination.
The fact that the Zionist left did not exist in practice doesn’t mean that it has not had a significant impact since October 7th. Due to its political inertia, this camp continues to wield considerable influence and challenges the fundamental beliefs of many.
In Netanyahu’s imaginary world, the extreme left continued to absorb new recruits, despite its non-existence. Even its political partnership with a Muslim Arab party, ostensibly the right’s nightmare, did not yield any pragmatic compromise. Quite the opposite – when it came to Gaza, it was much more resilient than most of Netanyahu’s governments. The camp that turned from the left to “anyone but Bibi” is reemerging as a protest movement that rediscovers Israeli activism.
The disillusionment on the right is not ideological but highly focused and personal. It’s personal not only concerning Netanyahu (and his family) but also regarding a significant portion of the ministers he appointed, who were exposed as empty vessels when put to the test. Meanwhile, the frustration on the left is much deeper.
The future political and social landscape of Israel is challenging to predict, given the shifts occurring within both sides of the political spectrum. There is a faction that will seek to draw closer to Israeli identity, while on the other, some will distance themselves further from it. The outcomes of future elections are likely to mirror the emerging trends seen in polls, including the complete disappearance of the classic left and the permanent end to Netanyahu’s public career.
The complexity of the situation is compounded by the fact that many ideas that once seemed reasonable have crumbled in the face of overwhelming sorrow and disillusionment.