The Last Remnants of the Israeli Left (New York Times, April 27, 2020)

The Last Remnants of the Israeli Left

If you seek the socialist vision of this country’s founders, it’s no longer in the Knesset — it’s on the wall.

The New York Times, April 27, 2020
Children playing in the garden in the new neighborhood in Kibbutz Ma’aleh Ha-Hamisha.
Children playing in the garden in the new neighborhood in Kibbutz Ma’aleh Ha-Hamisha. Credit: Dan Balilty for The New York Times

MA’ALEH HA-HAMISHA, Israel — In a modest building at this kibbutz in the hills outside Jerusalem, brawny workers in strong colors labor across three high walls, breaking rocks and plowing dark earth. Forgotten, then rediscovered, they’ve been here since 1953. They stare back at you, confident and grave, like saints in a medieval church. They want to tell you something.

Not many are listening. This kibbutz, founded 82 years ago as a commune that grew peaches and cherries, was privatized in 2005. Where the orchards once stood are new rows of homes built for the next generation: middle-class houses that evoke not socialism but the suburbs. One of the last reminders of what this place was, and why it was founded, are the workers on the wall.

Art, as one ideologue put it in the heyday of the kibbutz movement, is “a mission, not a game.” This mural, and similar works that are now being rescued from oblivion and neglect around Israel, were created to express the hopes of their creators, the socialists who built the kibbutz and founded the state, and whose Labor Party dominated Israeli politics for decades.

But viewed through the politics of the spring of 2020, the murals seem like an illustration of the gap between that vision and where we are now. Just as socialism enjoys a renaissance in American politics, led by Bernie Sanders — who in 1963 spent time on a kibbutz about an hour from here — the ideology’s political power in Israel has expired. …

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