From Mao to Berl Katznelson: The Time has Come for Introspection by the Left

All leftist ideas have ended in failure and at expense of innocent lives. Marking the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution, the time has come for a reassessment.

A trail of dead and failed ideas (photos - Wikipedia)

In one of the villages in northern Samaria lives an unfortunate clan that struggles with an illness affecting every fourth baby born into the clan. Around the time of the Oslo Accords, a baby girl born to one of the clan’s families was struck with this disease. Her father turned to a friend in the Gilboa and asked for help in placing the girl in an Israeli hospital that could heal her with a simple operation. When the friend asked a doctor he knew about the matter, the doctor responded despondently “If you had only come a week ago, before the medical responsibility for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria was transferred to the Palestinian Authority, I would have been able to save the girl.”

I was reminded of this story after I read Tom Aharon’s article in the August edition of “The Liberal” magazine titled “The Problem of the Left.” In the article, Aharon lamented the fact that there is no one amongst the leaders of the left who is ready to say “let’s stop speaking about Jewish identity and Zionism like a bunch of crazy people and start worrying about humans.” As I read, the words to Nurit Galron’s song “Acharaynu hamabul” (“After us, the deluge”) played in the background “No, don’t tell me about a girl who lost her childhood.”

That short line from the Aharon’s article embodies the moral and ideological crisis which a part of the political camp that consistently loses elections in Israel finds itself. Among the left, there is a small group of people who see elections as a modern version of the judgment of Solomon “If we don’t win, everything can go to hell.” From this then, stems the source of the left’s activities that can be best characterized as self destructive with eruptions of suicidal tendencies. The problem is that this faction tends to be the precursor for the left camp as opposed to operating on the fringes. They lead the way for all of the left and incite their movement to behavior that is beyond that which is legitimate.


A tangible example of the left’s situation is shown in the case of Arab poet Darren Tator, who has been under house arrest for two years after she wrote a poem that included the following pearl “A solution of peace is not enough for me/I will never lower my flag/Not until I remove them from my birthplace.” During an evening of support for the poet held at the Jaffa theater at the end of August, actress Liora Rivlin, who participated in the evening, was interviewed and wondered aloud “What do we do with (Hanukkah Song) ‘Maoz Tsur Yeshuati’ which calls for the slaughter of our enemies and that we all sing it?”

The aversion to any national and Zionist symbol, while identifying with national aspirations of other nations is nothing new. Berl Katznelson (one of the intellectual founders of Labor Zionism) explored this phenomenon when he wrote “The trait of kindness…[is] prevalent among Jews in a fanatical and honest way. Aware and sensitive to any harm, to any human deprivation and with compassion for all flesh. Only at one point is it blind and deaf, not applicable or felt, that is with regards to Judaism.”

Despite these expressions of compassion, “Experience teaches us that,” as President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “the average man who protests that his international feeling swamps his national feeling, that he does not care for his country because he cares so much for mankind, in actual practice proves himself the foe of mankind.”

It is therefore possible, that within Tom Aharon’s suggestion to begin “worrying about human beings” lay a refreshing innovation or even a hope that the left will for once help humanity thrive. Until today, every time that the left tried to worry about humanity, about equality or peace, it ended in disaster. Usually, it is connected to the Utopian dreams that stem from the socialist-communist doctrine. What is interesting, or worrisome, with the ideas of the left is the misleading names given to them.


Therefore, and despite the hope, there is room to doubt whether the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the “October revolution”, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia that falls this coming November, will lead to a historical turning point. One can only hope that the lofty ideas of the left will no longer come at the expense of human life.

This coming November, we will also be celebrating the Balfour Declaration, providing an opportunity to test which of the movements, the Zionist or the Bolshevik, has been better for humanity. In light of the economic prosperity and the calm security situation that Israel finds itself in, the answer is clear; before our eyes, the reality described in Herzl’s Utopian book “Altneuland” is coming true.

The series of leaders who have visited Israel in the last year in order to learn the secrets of the country’s success is the realization of the vision that Herzl described in his book “The Jewish State”. “With our freedom the world will be freed, it will be enriched with our richness and it will grow in our greatness. What we do there only for our prosperity will be a tremendous and empowering act for the benefit of all human beings.”

If this situation in Israel is a problem for some of people, perhaps it is appropriate to remind them what the consequences of their spiritual fathers’ concern for humanity have been.

The process of modernization that Stalin declared in the 1930’s drastically hurt the economics of the USSR. Even worse, it cost the lives of millions who starved to death. Similar fates were met by tens of millions of Chinese who were sacrifices of the economy led by Mao Zedong and who starved to death in the name of the “Great Leap Forward”, something which, obviously, never happened.

The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who was an intermittent communist, and who is thought of in the eyes of many as a fighter for human rights, was among the greats who opposed the continuation of French governance of Algeria. The results of Algerian freedom from the burdens of French colonialism is known to us in the form of a bloody civil war that developed in the country and the institutional corruption that destroyed every good part of the country. It is worthwhile to study the words that Sartre said:

“There is only one and final solution for Algeria, and that is independence. Self-determination can be a good method to solve the problem on the condition that real guarantees are made to the FLN.” Regarding the French citizens living in Algeria, Sartre said “It is not true that there are good settlers while others are bad, there are only settlers and nothing else.”


Another idea of the left remains to be examined; that of the longed for peace that for some reason always reveals itself to be not quite peaceful. Let us recall what Katznelson wrote in 1939 regarding the Arab rule in Israel:

“The goal that the Arab leadership has set for itself is the rule of the Mufti. For that, there is no need for the land to be at peace, for the village to flourish, that the living standards of the workers to rise, for Jews and Arabs to live in peace. However bloodshed, the starving of the village, the death of rivals, these will be what bring his rule closer.”

And regarding the “sacrifices of peace” that Jews were forced to sacrifice on the altar of Oslo, it is possible to quote the words of Mao during the Korean War when the leader of North Korea begged before Stalin and Mao to stop the war, Mao responded that “Until now, he has not lost anything except for the dead.”

Yehuda Shalem is a PhD student at Ariel University and a research fellow at the Ariel Institute for Security and Communications

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