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Good riddance to Rabin Square

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

For some Israelis, this is a moment of nostalgic lamentation. But this is supposed to be a time for serious introspection. As Israel marks 26 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4 – the general who became the prime minister known for signing the Oslo Accords, from which the square got its name – it also marks 26 years of almost constant decline for the square. A political movement he once led: the so-called “left” Zionist. Now, the temporary closure of Rabin Square is an opportunity for this camp to permanently give up what the site symbolizes and build a new and real left in its place.

Although Rabin Square (formerly known as Kings Square of Israel) hosted all kinds of protests and struggles throughout Israel’s history, no other political camp has found a home there like the Zionist left. Its location in the center of Tel Aviv places it in the heart of the Ashkenazi Jewish public in the country, the hegemonic ethnic group that is to this day a large part of the support base of the Zionist left parties.

During the state’s formative years – which were overseen and dominated by the Labor Zionist movement from 1948 to 1977 – the symbolic heartlands of Ashkenazi power derived from the kibbutzim, which spearheaded Zionist settlement in Palestine from the late 19th century. But since the 1980s, the neoliberalization of the Israeli economy has established a bourgeois Ashkenazi upper class, whose economic interests are now faithfully represented by “left” parties such as Labor and Meretz, and more recently by “central” parties such as Yesh Atid. And blue and white. Tel Aviv, Israel’s financial and cultural capital, has become the symbolic center of this identity.

In the last decade, the little ideology these parties once had has been largely reduced to the politics of “everyone but Bibi,” as embodied in a protest movement on Balfour Street last year against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although the protests against Netanyahu took place mainly outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Rabin Square was in many ways the symbolic home of the movement.

An artistic installation depicts former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a mock “Last Supper” in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, July 29, 2020. (Miriam Elster / Flash90)

Israeli artist Itai Zlait, for example, used the square as a place for two public installations to support the protests: a life-size exhibition called “The last meal, “Netanyahu depicted a lone figure in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the same name; another sculpture depicted a Balfour protester holding an Israeli flag while being hit by a police water cannon, titled”hero of Israel“- An appropriate description of a political camp based more on nostalgic self-importance than on any vision for the future.

While many in this camp saw Netanyahu’s ouster and the entry of left-wing and center-right parties as a reinforcement of their efforts, it is difficult to see the so-called “change government” led by Naftali Bennett and Yair. Torch, as an improvement on what comes before it. Besides, this rosy nostalgia for Israel in which the “left” is still a dominant force, makes two significant erasures that we have managed to defeat the camp for political obscurity: Palestinians and Mizrahis.

The Zionist left was not only responsible for the mass displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians that began in 1947-48, but it also continued to control the Palestinians who remained in the new state of Israel by military order until 1966, before setting out for illegal settlement. Construction of factories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem. This history is conveniently forgotten by many in the political camp, and encourages them to accuse the Israeli right of lacking “peace” with the Palestinians while insisting on their moral righteousness.

The Mizrahis also suffered greatly under the rule of the Zionist left in the first decades of the state, albeit in different ways. The Zionist movement, even under “leftist” leadership, was a project designed by and for the Jews of Europe, and it saw the Mizrahis, who came from Arab and other Muslim countries, through the same colonialist lens through which it saw the Palestinians.

Yemeni immigrants to Israel in the Beit Lid transit camp, near Netanya, July 27, 1950. (Seymour Katkoff / Le

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

The mass aliyah of Mizrahis in the 1950s was thus led by a racist establishment (including the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who described the immigrants as “Wild masses“), When the government ordered them to be sprayed with pesticides upon arrival and settled in slums or properties belonging to Palestinian refugees; some even abducted their babies and handed them over to Ashkenazi families.

When Mizrahis rose up against discrimination in the Wadi Salib neighborhood of Haifa in 1959, and then under the banner of the Israeli Black Panthers in the early 1970s, Labor-led governments brutally suppressed their protests. All this, of course, remains deliberately distant from the collective memory of the Zionist left, which looks so affectionately at its glorious days before 1977.

There is no real alternative

The victory of the right-wing Likud party in the 1977 elections brought an end to the Bolshevik-style one-party rule of Labor, in a “revolution” that was fueled in part by the Eastern rage against the Labor establishment. Since then, the Zionist left has differed from other political currents in Israel in its “pigeon” positions relative to foreign policy.

It was fully shown in September 1982, in what was then still Kings of Israel Square. In what may have been the largest demonstration in the history of the square, hundreds of thousands demonstrated under a peace flag 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 State of Israel. Responsibility and the resignation of then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The movement was successful in both sections.

But just one year earlier, in the very same square, the Zionist left had shown exactly why mass mobilization moments like the 1982 protest were so few. At a Labor Party rally held there ahead of the 1981 elections, prominent TV and Labor supporter Dudu Topaz Stood on stage And addressed the Ashkenazi audience for the most part as “the true people of this country,” and told them that “it is a joy to see that there are no Chechens who are destroying campaign meetings here,” using a derogatory nickname for Eastern Jewish men and especially from North Africa. .

The connection between these two events is closer than one might think. The “Land for Peace” formula in which the Zionist left flag – encapsulated in the 1982 demonstration, but embodied most strongly in Rabin’s Oslo process – is not so much a compromise but a compromise. Potential blessing To the camp, and its followers could give legitimacy to the loot of 1948 (which enriched the Ashkenazi class but avoided Mizrahis) by relinquishing the loot of 1967 (through which Mizrahis gained a foothold in Israeli society). All this took place while the country enjoyed the benefits of an economic boom associated with its so-called “peace-seeking” policy, which would further integrate Israel’s economy into the world market at the expense of the poorest strata – major Orientals among them.

A sign at the Rabin memorial assembly featuring the figure of Yitzhak Rabin (right) with the word

A sign at the Rabin memorial assembly featuring the figure of Yitzhak Rabin (right) with the word ‘leadership’. Above the picture of Benjamin Netanyahu appears the word ‘cowardice’, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, October 31, 2015. (Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Forty years later, the picture is not so different. The Zionist left may even appear in Rabin Square for an occasional rally against Extremely abominable exaggerations Of today’s right-wing government (albeit in much smaller numbers than it once did), but it offers no real alternative to the prevailing political reality other than a return to the status quo ante – a structure of dispossession by the state of institutionalized racism.

The very DNA of the camp causes him not to question the existing supreme regime since the establishment of the state, which in turn can turn to no one but the dwindling Ashkenazi elite who are the main beneficiaries of that regime. Moreover, it fails to recognize how the Oslo paradigm of separation, to which this camp remains married, has significantly worsened the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and occupied Gaza, not for the better.

Even today, the new government’s talk of “shrinking the conflict” has not stopped Israel Expansion of settlements or Kill Palestinians, Nor cracked Settler violence erupts. Instead, this government has gone further to incriminate Palestinian human rights organizations than any previous administration and seems to intend to Costs The decades-old religious status quo on the Temple Mount / al-Haram a-Sharif.

For the past 26 years, the Zionist left has repeatedly tried to revive Rabin’s spirit by bringing one military man after another to lead the camp back to its former “glory,” and never ceases to think that perhaps the problem is not the leader. , But the plan. Whether it’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, from Labor, Describes Israel as a “villa in the jungle”, or MK Meretz Yair Golan who opposes a Palestinian family unification law because it could “drown Israeli citizens in a sea of ​​Palestinians”, the two parties will continue to isolate entire sectors of Israeli citizens without presenting anything serious. A right that is getting stronger with each passing year.

But with the closure of Rabin Square comes an opportunity: to leave behind everything it symbolizes, and build a new political movement in its place. One that confronts the structures of oppression and submission that have ruled here since 1948, not just 1967 or 1977. One that replaces a politics of separation and supremacy in a politics of solidarity and equality for all. And one who is committed to decolonization in the fullest sense, not just where he is comfortable.


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