Good riddance place Rabin

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This month, large parts of Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square will be closed to the public to allow the municipality to move forward with the construction of the new Tel Aviv-Jaffa tram. The square, which has witnessed some of the most famous protests in Israel’s history, will no longer host major protests or events of any kind for the foreseeable future.

For some Israelis, it is a time of nostalgic lamentation. But it should be a time for some serious soul-searching. As Israel marks the 26th anniversary of the November 4 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin – the general-turned-prime minister known to have signed the Oslo Accords, and from whom the square takes his name – it also marks 26 years. almost constant decline for the political movement he once led: the so-called Zionist “left”. From now on, the temporary closure of Place Rabin is an opportunity for this camp to definitively abandon what the site symbolizes and to build in its place a new and authentic left.

Although Rabin Square (formerly known as the Kings Square of Israel) has hosted all manner of protests and struggles throughout Israel’s history, no other political camp has found a home there. in the same way as the Zionist left. Its location in central Tel Aviv places it at the very heart of the country’s Ashkenazi Jewish public, the hegemonic ethnic group that still forms a large part of the base of support for left-wing Zionist parties today.

During the state-forming years – which were overseen and dominated by the Labor Zionist movement from 1948 to 1977 – the symbolic heart of Ashkenazi power derived from the kibbutzim, which spearheaded Zionist colonization in Palestine. from the end of the 19th century. But since the 1980s, the neoliberalization of the Israeli economy has consolidated an Ashkenazi bourgeois upper class, whose economic interests are now faithfully represented by “left” parties like Labor and Meretz, and more recently, by political parties. “Centrists” like Yesh Atid. and Blue and White. Tel Aviv, as the financial and cultural capital of Israel, has become the symbolic center of this identity.

Over the past decade, what little ideology these parties once had has been largely reduced to the politics of ‘anyone but Bibi’, as embodied by the Balfour Street protest movement in the United States. last year against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although the anti-Netanyahu protests mainly took place outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Rabin Square was in many ways the symbolic home of the movement.

An art installation depicts former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a simulated “Last Supper” in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, July 29, 2020 (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

Israeli artist Itay Zalait, for example, used the square as the location of two public installations in support of the protests: a life-size exhibit, titled “The Last Supper,” depicts a lone Netanyahu in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting. of the same name; another statue depicted a Balfour protester holding an Israeli flag as he was struck by a police water cannon, titled “Hero of Israel” – an apt description for a political camp based more on self-importance nostalgic only about any vision of the future.

While many in this camp saw Netanyahu’s dethronement and the entry of so-called left and center parties into a coalition as a justification for their efforts, it is difficult to see the new so-called “government of change.” », Directed by Naftali Bennett and Yair. Lapid, as an improvement over what came before it. Moreover, this pink-tinged nostalgia for an Israel where the “left” is still a dominant force makes two significant erasures that will forever condemn the camp to political obscurity: the Palestinians and the Mizrahim.

The Zionist left was not only responsible for the massive displacement and dispossession of Palestinians that began in 1947-48, but it also ruled the Palestinians who remained in the new State of Israel by military decree until 1966, before to embark on an illegal colony. -a construction company in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem. This story is conveniently forgotten by many in the political camp, encouraging them to blame the Israeli right for the lack of “peace” with the Palestinians while emphasizing their own moral righteousness.

Mizrahim, too, suffered greatly under the Zionist left regime during the first decades of the state, albeit in different ways. The Zionist movement, even under “leftist” leadership, was a project conceived by and for European Jews, and it viewed Mizrahim, originally from Arab and other Muslim countries, through the same colonialist prism that he viewed them. Palestinians.

Yemeni immigrants to Israel at the Beit Lid transit camp, near Netanya, July 27, 1950 (Seymour Katcoff / GPO)

Yemeni immigrants to Israel at the Beit Lid transit camp, near Netanya, July 27, 1950 (Seymour Katcoff / GPO)

Mizrahim’s massive immigration in the 1950s was thus administered by a racist establishment (including Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who called the immigrants “savage hordes”), the government ordering them to be sprayed with pesticides on their arrival and settling in slums or on properties belonging to Palestinian refugees; some have even had their babies removed and donated to Ashkenazi families.

When Mizrahim rose up against their discrimination in the Haifa neighborhood of Wadi Salib in 1959, and later under the banner of the Israeli Black Panthers in the early 1970s, Labor governments brutally suppressed their protests. All of this, of course, remains intentionally removed from the collective memory of the Zionist left, which so fondly remembers its pre-1977 heyday.

No real alternative

The electoral victory of the right-wing Likud party in 1977 marked the end of the Bolshevik-style one-party Labor regime, in an “upheaval” fueled in part by the Mizrahi’s rage against the Labor establishment. Since then, the Zionist left has distinguished itself from other political currents in Israel by its relatively “accommodating” foreign policy positions.

This was fully exposed in September 1982, in what was then still the place of the Kings of Israel. In what may have been the biggest protest in the history of the square, hundreds of thousands of people protested under the banner of Peace Now following the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, calling for a formal government inquiry into the responsibility and for the resignation of then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The movement has succeeded on both fronts.

Yet a year earlier, in the same square, the Zionist left showed exactly why moments of mass mobilization like the 1982 protest were so few and far between. At a Labor Party rally held there prior to the 1981 election, TV personality and Labor supporter Dudu Topaz took the stage and addressed the predominantly Ashkenazi crowd as “the real people of this country ”, telling them that it was“ a joy to see that there are no shahchahim destroying campaign meetings here, ”using a derogatory term for the Mizrahi and in particular the Jewish men of North Africa.

The link between these two events is closer than you might think. The “land for peace” formula championed by the Zionist left – implicit in the 1982 protest but most strongly embodied in Rabin’s Oslo process – is not so much a compromise as a potential windfall for the camp, allowing its adherents to legitimize the loot of 1948 (which enriched the Ashkenazi class but was denied to Mizrahim) by renouncing the loot of 1967 (by which Mizrahim gained a foothold in Israeli society). All of this took place as the state was benefiting from an economic boom linked to its ostensibly “peacemaking” policy, which would further integrate Israel’s economy into the world market at the expense of the lower classes. poor – Mizrahim at the center of them.

A sign at the Rabin Memorial Gathering with an image of Yitzhak Rabin (right) with the word

A sign at the Rabin Memorial Gathering with a picture of Yitzhak Rabin (right) with the word “leadership” on it. Above an image of Benjamin Netanyahu is the word “cowardice,” Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, October 31, 2015. (Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Forty years later, the picture is not that different. The Zionist left may still turn up from time to time in Rabin’s Square for a rally against the most heinous excesses of the right-wing government of the day (albeit in much smaller numbers than in the past), but it offers no a real alternative to the dominant political reality other than a return to the status quo ante – a structure of state-sanctioned dispossession and institutionalized racism.

The camp’s very DNA makes it unable to challenge the rule of supremacy that has existed since the inception of the state, rendering it unable to appeal to anyone except an Ashkenazi elite. increasingly narrow who constitutes the main beneficiaries of this scheme. Moreover, he fails to recognize how the Oslo paradigm of separation, to which this camp remains committed, has dramatically worsened the lives of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Even today, the new government’s “conflict reduction” rhetoric has not stopped Israel from expanding settlements or killing Palestinians, or quelling the spiral of settler violence. Instead, this government has gone further in criminalizing Palestinian human rights organizations than any previous administration and appears determined to overturn the decades-old religious status quo on Temple Mount / al-Haram. -Sharif.

Over the past 26 years, the Zionist left has repeatedly attempted to resuscitate Rabin’s spirit by bringing in one military man after another to bring the camp back to its former “glory”, never ceasing to think that the problem is may not be the boss. , but the program. Whether it’s former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, describing Israel as a “villa in the jungle,” or Meretz MP Yair Golan opposing a Palestinian family unification law because it could “To drown Israeli citizens in a sea of ​​Palestinians,” both parties will continue to isolate entire sectors of Israeli citizenship without presenting any serious challenge to a right wing that is becoming more extreme and emboldened with each passing year. .

But with the closure of Place Rabin presents an opportunity: to leave behind everything it symbolizes, and to build a new political movement in its place. One that will face the structures of oppression and subjugation that have reigned here since 1948, not just since 1967 or 1977. One that will replace a policy of separation and supremacy with a policy of solidarity and equality for all. And one who is committed to decolonization in the fullest sense, not just where it fits.


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