In a Haaretz opinion piece of December 9, 2020 (“Let the public elect the leaders of the Left”), Stav Shaffir, a leader of the 2011 social protest and former Labor MK, calls for the establishment of the “Israeli Democratic Party.” She writes of “uniting all forces and conducting open primaries. Only in this way will it be possible to restore the voters’ trust, mobilize a fresh, new leadership and achieve Jewish-Arab partnership.” This is undoubtedly a revolutionary and potentially game-changing idea that deserves serious consideration. Shaffir explains the nature of the primaries by noting that they “can also encourage ideological debate. Protesters are proposing to use technology that allows the public direct access to elected officials. They are right. A leadership that has so far failed to bring about change must seek the public’s help in building the future.” Indeed, there is need for a democratic and direct way to form a party based on a broad popular movement.
Shaffir is not content with making a purely organizational proposal. She also pours program content into it, stating: “The voters are not interested in internal politics and musical chairs. They are busy with trying to make a living and coping with the [Covid] crisis. A Democratic Party can offer hope through creative solutions that have not yet been discussed in depth: universal basic income, comprehensive reform in the health and education systems, the transfer of powers to local authorities, and the Green New Deal.”
It is impossible not to notice that both the name and the program that Shaffir offers are reminiscent of the American model, essentially copying it. The Democratic Party has just defeated incumbent President Donald Trump on the basis of a political platform very similar to the one proposed by Shaffir, centered on a “Green New Deal.” If Bibi Netanyahu can be identified as Donald Trump’s counterpart, then the adoption of the Democratic Party model, which hails from the Left, becomes extremely relevant for those who want to overthrow Netanyahu and shape an innovative political reality.
The interesting thing is that Donald Trump has enormous popularity, proportionally much greater than the support that Netanyahu receives. Trump got more votes than he did in 2016, nevertheless losing to Biden by some 7 million. There is no doubt that the open primaries in the Democratic Party played a crucial role in Biden’s victory. Biden set up a “big tent” into which all social movements gathered, including Blacks, women, Latinos, LGBTQs, climate activists, and the socialist Left. But on closer inspection we see it was the Black movement that gave Biden his victory. In other words, the Green New Deal is an important factor in the victory, but even more important is Black Lives Matter.
If Biden had not adopted “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan, he would not have received the support of South Carolina’s Congressman Jim Clyburn in the Democratic primaries, and certainly he would not have won in the city centers populated by millions of Black voters, for example in the state of Georgia as well as in Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. This political equation corresponds one hundred percent to the political reality in Israel. Just as the American Right cannot be defeated without the Black vote, so the Israeli Right cannot be defeated without the Arab vote. This is a clear lesson that is slowly seeping into the Israeli political reality.
Ironically, with his sharp political senses, the first to identify this new direction is Netanyahu himself, who after rejecting the Arab Joint List as a legitimate part of the political game, made a U-turn and reached a deal with Islamic Movement leader Mansour Abbas. In turn, Abbas has declared that he does not differentiate between Right and Left, and is willing to make a deal with Satan himself if it will serve the interests of the public he represents. The importance of cooperation with the Arabs has recently become a consensus in left-wing circles, and the big question is how to do it.
Stav Shaffir is right in accusing Meretz of empty talk about an Arab-Jewish partnership. “I will believe that Meretz truly wants an Arab-Jewish partnership when I see its members demonstrate a willingness to make personal concessions for it. The establishment of a Democratic Party will provide them with an opportunity. The party will recruit Jewish and Arab candidates and hold regional elections to ensure their integration.” The problem is that Shaffir goes easy on herself. The problem is not just a willingness to make personal concessions, but ideological concessions.
Meretz refuses to shed its Zionist ideology, effectively blocking the way for a true Arab-Jewish partnership. Is a “Zionist Democratic Party” really possible? Is it possible to have a Zionist Green New Deal? In other words, is it possible to talk about the climate crisis without mentioning the Occupation and its ongoing violation of human rights?
In his election campaign Joe Biden expressed contrition, admitting he had previously erred in his stance on the wholesale trials of Blacks in the courts. In contrast, Stav Shaffir led one of the largest protest movements the country has ever known, but she and her friends insisted on not mentioning the Occupation in order to include the Right. The end is known: Shaffir joined the Labor Party, and since then Netanyahu has ruled without restraint. In other words, it is not enough to adopt the name “Democratic Party” and empty it of content. Those who wish to build an Arab-Jewish partnership must abandon the Zionist ideology that puts the Jewish nation above all else.
At the same time, it is difficult to criticize Shaffir alone. After all, the Arab “potential partners” are also shutting themselves off behind walls of nationalism, refusing to play the political game, and declaring themselves to be an eternal opposition. Arab society did not create its own Stacey Abrams, the Black leader from Georgia who brought Blacks to the polls behind Biden, or Vice President Kamala Harris—and one could name many others. These have embraced the full Democratic platform, offering leadership to all Americans wherever they are, rather than representing their sector against all else.
Therefore, the effort to establish a Democratic Party in Israel depends not only on open primaries, but on a very broad consensus between Jewish and Arab leaders, who will be willing to abandon the Zionist or Arab nationalistic ideologies and unite to build a broad democracy, bringing hope to both Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, the struggle against climate change, for universal health and education, and the adoption of an egalitarian, cooperative and green economy, are not “Zionist missions.” They are universal. Any future Democratic Party will have to include the five million Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the Arabs in Israel, adopting the principles of a new green order as a programmatic basis to unite Israelis and Palestinians toward a more just society.
The direction Shaffir is pointing in is correct. The American experience is an example of how to fight the Right, against the dangers of the climate crisis, against social disparities, against poverty, and for racial justice, or in our case justice for the Palestinians and an end to the Occupation. The Netanyahu era is indeed coming to an end, and developments in the United States indicate that sooner or later a democratic party will emerge in Israel as the only response to the disaster of the Right in all its forms: Netanyahu, Sa’ar, Bennett, Lieberman, Lapid, and Gantz.
Saving the planet is a common task for Israelis and Palestinians, and saving democracy requires the unity of all the forces that suffer from the current regime. These are two tasks that go hand in hand, and these are the principles that we in the Da’am Party wholeheartedly adopt.