MK Khenin: Liberals never won the struggle against fascism

In an i24news special interview MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) says he is “on the bridge, trying to convey a different message.” Excerpts from the interview follow.

Towards the end of his municipal campaign in 2008, all advisors told MK Dr. Dov Khenin (56) that he has to go through the motion and make the traditional tour of the Hatikva neighborhood market in the south of Tel Aviv. Khenin was reluctant to obey. He still had a mental image of more moderate and less controversial politicians walking eyes wide shut into this trap, just to come out ego-bruised from this fortress of right-wingers. Sometimes, not just their ego was bruised, though they were much lesser political “sinners”. They just were not on the political right; Khenin, on the other hand, is a communist, ardent left winger and long time member of Hadash – the only bi- national, Jewish- Arab party in Israel – an ideological unsacred trinity in the eyes of many Israeli Jews.

Dov Khenin during a meeting in Tel-Aviv at the end of his municipal campaign in 2008 (Photo: Moran Beth Halachmi)

Dov Khenin during a meeting in Tel-Aviv at the end of his municipal campaign in 2008 (Photo: Moran Beth Halachmi)

What followed was quite surprising. As soon as he set foot in the narrow streets of the colorful market, somebody recognized him. “Here comes the son of the nursery teacher,” they yelled; “Shula’s son.” That certainly made a difference. Khenin’s mother, a lifelong communist, has been for decades a legendary nursery teacher in the heart of hard- core right wing. They loved her, she loved them. The people came before ideology. Some of that aura reflected on the prodigal son. He completed the tour triumphantly, the elections with quite an impressive success but with no victory. “I am aware of the complexity of this situation”, he says in an interview to i24newsin the midst of the war in Gaza; “we are certainly swimming against the tide. The Jews are afraid of Arabs more than ever; the Arabs are discouraged from Jews more than ever. Our project is now even less popular.”

Giving up?

Let’s put it this way: we are the bridge between the two. The bridge is falling apart, and just a small group of people remains there, trying to not let it collapse, protecting it from the attempts of both sides to dismantle it. When my grandchild asks me in 30 years from now –”Grandpa, where were you then”, I want to be able to say:”I was on the bridge trying to convey a different message.”

What is that message now?

It is – as Marxists say – “socialism or barbarism”, barbarism being now the more realistic option. And socialism can only exist on the basis of this bi-national cooperation.

Can nationalism and national sentiment be discarded even in times of a war, like the one in Gaza?

I consider myself as a person with strong national sentiment. Really. I love my people and pride in the fact that my people have always been open to others. I love the land, the tradition and feel very much part our national culture. I take pride in it. Yet I feel much closer to a Palestinian peace activist then to [Likud right-wing and nationalist deputy] MK Miri Regev, though I assume she and I celebrate Passover in a very similar way.

Is it possible to adopt universal values to a point that Israeli war victim and Palestinian war victim are the same for you?

I respond individually to each tragedy. I’m honest with you. My heart breaks in both situations

You are a self-proclaimed non-Zionist. What do you think of the Zionist left?

I think they operate within a set of built-in contradictions that by definition take them in the wrong direction.

You mean like the fact you led active protest against the war in Gaza and the Zionist Left, though not happy with the conduct of this war, kept silent.

That too. The leaders of that camp know deep down that this war was a disaster, but their DNA won’t allow them to express it. And yet it is crucial now to cooperate. There is a certain sense of urgency in the Israeli Left.

The shrinking Left, you mean?

I am not one of those lamenting the left. The left just has to learn to talk to the people and with them. It’s the right political wing that is in trouble; they have no answers as to where they want to go. The left does have answers, just lacks the skills to deliver them to the public. Basically, that left is not a real “left”. It is a liberal camp. And if we face now domestic danger of fascism, it is important to acknowledge that the liberals never won the struggle against fascism. It takes a much larger coalition, with socialism in its center, to do that.


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