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Have you ever seen the old murals that decorate the walls of Israel’s historic kibbutzim? They often feature young, brawny Jewish men and women working and plowing the land. They evoke the pioneering spirit of early Zionism: glorifying the mixing of sweat and soil, focused on what Hebrew labor could achieve through cooperation and collective action, and strikingly statist, even socialist. These murals are, in fact, a stark reminder that the Jewish state was founded in large part by Labor Zionists, and that the Israeli Left once dominated the country’s politics. Things have changed a great deal over the past 72 years. Israel is now a nation with a strong conservative consensus. The Labor Party of David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir—the political organization that erected the governing structures of the country—has been reduced to a mere three seats in the 23rd Knesset. And a poll conducted earlier this month shows that if elections were to be held right now, the party that dominated Israeli politics for decades would not win a single seat in the next Knesset.
What happened? And what does Labor’s decline tell us about contemporary Israel? Earlier this week, the journalist and author Matti Friedman wrote a piece in the New York Times examining “The Last Remnants of the Israeli Left.” In this podcast, he joins host Jonathan Silver to discuss the history and precipitous decline of socialist politics in Israel.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble as well as “Ulterior” by Swan Production.
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