After former IDF Gen. Yair Golan failed to be named army chief of staff, he decided to enter politics, as almost all generals and spy chiefs do in Israel. A natonal security state raises all these figures on a gold pedestal. They tend to see their heroes as defenders of the state. The more Arabs they kill, the more heroic they are. And naturally, more desirable as political candidates.
Before he retired, Golan delivered an astonishing (for an active-duty general) speech in which he warned that Israeli racism and extremism reminded him of Nazi Germany. By then, Golan surely knew he would not be promoted to the top job. Otherwise, he certainly would not have given a speech like this. Thus, he felt emboldened to speak out.
Not to mention, his attempt to ingratiate himself with the Left electorate, which he planned to lead after leaving army service. Left-wing Israelis were pleasantly shocked at his candor. His fellow generals and the Israeli far-right considered him a traitor to the nation.
But after joining Meretz, Israel’s “Zionist left” party, Golan has backtracked significantly. He runs from the term “leftist.” He seeks to make Meretz into a soft-left alternative to the Labor Party, which itself is in danger of vanishing in the next November election. Or perhaps he’s aiming to peel off the few “leftist” voters who support the center-right parties, notably Blue and White, who formed the current coalition government. At any rate, he has in effect returned to his military roots which offer a security-based approach to political issues.
Golan and the N-Word
Whatever his thinking, he gave an interview to the Times of Israel Hebrew edition, Zman, in which he offered a scandalous comparison between the Hebrew word for leftist (שמאלן)and the N-word. Except, he didn’t use that pejorative American term. He actually used the full word itself. I’m obviously not going to use it here. But you can see it in the accompanying screenshots of both the Hebrew passage and the English translation published in Mondoweiss. Inexplicably, that ostensibly progressive website also used the unexpurgaged term.
In the interview, Golan complained that the Israeli right uses the word “leftist” as a curse word. He argued that Likud hooligans spit out the word in the same way that American racists shout the N-word. He declared that he was going to end the shame progressive Israelis feel when they hear the word shouted at them.
His use of the term and the analogy itself is not only offensive and racist, but preposterous. The N-word for African Americans (and all decent Americans) is a word redolent of racism, slavery, lynching, etc. It represents the worst of America; the true nadir of human brutality. How can Golan possibly compare the degrading term to the word “leftist?”
The American pejorative term symbolizes pure unadulterated hatred. Further, an African American cannot change his/her race. The word attempts to destroy their identity and humanity. While smolan is a nasty word when uttered by the foul mouths of louts like Yair Netanyahu, it has nothing like the horrifying impact of the N-word. Not only does Golan not understand the history of American racism; he offers a simplistic comparison that insults African-Americans.
Any American will tell you the N-word is verboten. The only people who use it are white supremacists and ignorant Ameicans raised on racism and hate (of whom there are entirely too many). No one, certainly not a “white” member of the Israeli Ashkenazi elite, has any right to utter it.
The Rudderless Israeli Left
Golan’s cluelessness bespeaks the rudderless state of what was once called the “Israeli left” (or perhaps more aptly, the “patriotic left”). One might argue that it once had its day decades ago. But since then, it has wandered aimlessly in the poltical desert. It doesn’t know what it is. Has no clue what it wants to be. Has no concept of how to win anything, let alone an election.
Of one thing you can be sure: Meretz and the Labor Party, sometimes called the “Zionist left” have never met an Israeli war they didn’t like. The scenario goes something like this: Israel invades Lebanon or Gaza to the full-throated support of Meretz’s party leadership. Given that 95% of Israelis will always support “the boys” in their campaign to rid Israel of its Arab enemies, Meretz goes along in lock step. Not a peep about war crimes, mass murder or senseless wars.
But a few weeks in, when the war becomes a grinding mess and people start wondering what went wrong and why Israel seems stuck in a quagmire, then all of a sudden Meretz wakes from its slumber and grows a spine. That’s when you’ll hear the Party start to murmur that maybe this war wasn’t such a good idea after all.
So it is astonishing that a leading candidate to lead this aimless Party is none other than a former general who buys into racist language, like it’s going out of style. What does it say about a supposedly progressive Party that it’s being asked to name Golan, racist insults dripping from his mouth, to lead it?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.