The Fall of the House of Labor

In 1927, there was a deep economic crisis in Palestine. Unemployed workers would gather in a workingmen’s club in the cellar of Beit Brenner in Tel Aviv to bitterly vent their difficulties. One evening, David Ben-Gurion, then General Secretary of the Histadrut (Zionist Labor Federation in Palestine), addressed them about the future of Zionism and the primacy of the Jewish worker’s role in building the land of Israel. A cry of anger erupted from the audience: “Leader, give us bread!” Ben-Gurion replied: “I have no bread. I have a vision.” This episode provides the terms for understanding what has happened to the Labor movement in Israel. There is no famine in the country now, and until the advent of the corona-virus there was no economic distress — but neither is there a vision, or anyone worthy of being described as a leader. How did it come to pass that the movement which built and led the nascent Jewish state from 1935, and the actual Jewish state until 1977, and later wrote several important chapters in Israel’s history, evaporated into a handful of mediocre Knesset members who were attached like a final appendage, almost vestigially, to a parity government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted on charges of corruption? The party that built a nation, established a state, and gathered the Jews in their ancient homeland seems to be dying slowly, unattractively. In the beginning there was the vision: The Jewish state and the Israeli nation would be built from the bottom up, in a gradual process of shaping society and culture. It was supposed to be a project that combined nation-building and the creation of a new society, a national goal and a social goal. It was to be carried out by Jewish workers animated by universal ideals in

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