MÁLAGA, Spain — The leader of Israel’s center-left Labor Party says something has gone “very wrong” with the political left around the world, with supposed progressives now aligning themselves with Islamist militants who oppose the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people.
Over a month after Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and captured some 240, Israeli officials revised their death toll downwards as Israel wages a retaliatory war against Hamas in Gaza, which has now killed more than 11,000 Palestinians — according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Mass protests have been held in cities across the EU and U.S. calling for an immediate cease-fire, with many using the slogan “from the river to the sea,” regarded by many Jews and Israelis as a call for the annihilation of the state of Israel but by Palestinians and their supporters as a non-violent rallying cry against the occupation.
At the protests and on university campuses, some protestors describing themselves as left-wing have expressed support for Hamas — proscribed as a terror organization by the U.S., EU and U.K. Tensions in the left-wing camp have already boiled over in France and Britain. The far-left France Unbowed party led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, for example, avoids describing Hamas as terrorists and was the only major political party not to attend a rally against rising antisemitism last weekend. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer, the U.K. Labour Party leader, has been pummelled by the left of his party for refusing to call for a cease-fire.
“I think something very bad is happening on the left,” Labor leader Merav Michaeli told POLITICO in an interview. “It became very, very clear in this attack that people who consider themselves to be democratic, progressive, are supporting a totalitarian terror regime that oppresses women [and] the LGBTQ+ community,” she said on the fringes of an international meeting of Socialist and social democrat parties in Spain.
Some politicians on the far left have primarily blamed Israel for the the latest cycle of violence.
“The more you go to the left, the more there’s a big mix-up. Something went very wrong on the way,” Michaeli told POLITICO, adding that Israel has some “very strong allies” on the center-left.
“I fail to see how shouting jihad and calling for a mass murder of Jews is pro-Palestinian,” she added. “It’s important for me to emphasize to them that when you do not very strongly go against Hamas, and what it does in Gaza including to its own people, you are complicit.”
Israel has imposed a total siege on Gaza, allowing only a trickle of humanitarian aid into the densely-inhabited territory and obliging hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to move south to escape daily bombardments.
Michaeli, a transport minister in the previous Israeli government, is a long-time critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is leading a far-right coalition and formed a war cabinet with centrist Benny Gantz after October 7. Michaeli called during the interview for Netanyahu to “go now.”
But she also sought to focus attention on the trauma suffered by Israeli society in the wake of the October 7 attacks.
“When I’m speaking to people outside of Israel, then they need to understand that even the biggest peace activists and even the biggest believers in the two state solutions are now under a horrible attack,” she said.
Labor and its antecedent political movements dominated Israeli politics for some 30 years after the birth of the nation in 1948, with members including such prominent politicians as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak. But as Israel shifted to the right, Labor was sidelined as a political force, with now only four members – including Michaeli herself — in the 120-seat Knesset.
“The way to rebuild Israel is to take it back,” she said, before correcting herself: “It’s not even back, it’s to put it on the Zionist democratic, liberal path.” Michaeli explained that this means pushing for a two-state solution as outlined under the Oslo accords that Rabin, her predecessor as Labor Party leader, negotiated in the 1990s.
At the meeting in Spain, calls by some national parties from countries such as France, Ireland and Belgium for a cease-fire in Gaza divided delegates and did not make it into the final agreed text. The left more broadly has been rocked by divisions over how to respond to the war in Gaza.
Michaeli, whose party is a mere observer to the Party of European Socialists, could not directly negotiate the final text that was agreed upon in Málaga.
But she said: “[Calling for a] cease-fire now is giving permission to Hamas to continue rearming itself, continue stealing food, water, medicine and fuel from its own people and yes, rebasing itself.” She suggested that calls for a cease-fire were being influenced by “PR” for Hamas.
She put the blame for thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza on Hamas, rather than on the Israeli army, whose actions she defended.
“They are dying because Hamas is using them as human shields, because they have based everything from equipment to missiles to their headquarters in the midst of the most civilian functions there are,” Michaeli said.
She criticized what she perceived as a lack of support among EU politicians to push for the release of some 240 hostages kidnapped by Hamas. “I would have loved to hear more about that than just a mention, at least as much as they’re talking about the humanitarian needs in Gaza,” she said.
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