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European new wave

A new progressive wave is pouring over Europe, trying to wash away right-wing populism. Can Israel also benefit from this?



In my youth, there was a joke that read, "No one else is like you – and that's good!" The joke fits Donald Trump. He's unique. That's really good.

Men er he unique? Is he really completely without parallels as a global phenomenon, or at least in the Western world? Like type – no doubt. It is almost impossible to imagine any other western country choosing one like him to be its supreme leader. But apart from his special personality – what's unique about Trump?

Empire nostalgia. Before the US presidential election, something happened in the UK: the Brexit vote. The British people, one of the most sensible in the world, democratically chose to leave the European Union. There was no sensible decision. To put it bluntly: It was idiotic.

The European Union is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. After many centuries of internal wars, including two world wars, and with countless millions killed, reason finally prevailed. Europe became one. First, financially; then, slowly, also mentally and politically.

England, and later the whole of the United Kingdom, was involved in many of these wars. As a major naval power and a worldwide empire, the British served to participate. The country's traditional policy was to create conflict, and then to support the weaker party against the stronger.

Alas, that time is over. The Empire (including Palestine) is nothing more than a memory. Britain is now only a medium-sized power, in line with Germany and France. They can't do it alone. But they have decided to try just that.

In heaven's name: Why? No one knows for sure. Probably it was a fleeting mood. A fit of resentment. A longing for the good old days, then Britain ruled the waves and built their own Jerusalem in green and beautiful England. (In reality, Jerusalem is not as green and beautiful.)

Many seem to think that if there had been a second round of elections, the British would have turned. But the British have no faith in such second rounds. In any case, Brexit was perceived as a sharp turn to the right. And shortly after, the Americans chose Trump.

The European Union is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. Choosing to leave it was downright idiotic.

Trump is right-wing. Double right twist. There is nothing between him and the wall to his right, except – perhaps – his vice. ("Vice" in both meanings of the word, that is, his lack of character as well as his vice president.) In context, the British and US elections seemed to announce a worldwide wave of right-wing victories. In many countries, right-wing and regular fascists showed muscle, sure to succeed. Marine Le Pen smelled victorious, and her like-minded people in many countries, from the Netherlands to Hungary, hoped for the same.

Historic wave gravy. History has known such political waves before. One example is the wave started by Benito Mussolini after World War I, which picked up the ancient Roman bundle of sticks, sticks and ax – fasces - and turned it into an international word and an ism. Another is the communist wave after World War II, which took over half the globe, from Berlin to Shanghai.

Now it was the big right wave that threatened to flood the world. But then something quite different happened. Nothing seemed as stable as the political system in France – with its old, established parties, led by an assembly of aging, experienced party pumps. And there, out of the blue, emerges a virtually unknown non-politician who, with one arm gesture, sweeps all the pieces off the chessboard. Socialists, fascists and everyone in between garbage on the floor.

The new man is Emmanuel Macron (Emmanuel / Immanuel is a good Hebrew name meaning "God with us"). The 39-year-old is very young for the president to be; he is pretty and very inexperienced, except for a short stint as Minister of Commerce. He also has a heart as a bank for the EU.

A bark, the party officials comforted themselves. It's not going to last. But then came the French parliamentary elections, and the wave turned into a tsunami. An almost unheard of result: Already in the first round, Macron's new party won an astonishing majority, which will surely be even greater in the second round. Everyone had to think new. Macron was obviously the opposite of the new right wave. Not only when it came to European unity, but also almost everything else. Macron is center-oriented, but rather more to the left than to the right. A modest person, compared to Trump. A progressive, compared to British May.

Oh, Theresa May! What was it about her? May came to power after the Brexit vote with a comfortable majority, but became restless. It seems that she wanted to prove that she could get an even bigger majority on her own. This is what happens to politicians. So she announced new elections. Even with my limited experience, I could have told her that this was a mistake. For some reason, people do not like untimely choices. It's like a curse of the gods. You light out, you lose.

May lost his majority. There was no obvious coalition partner in sight. She was forced to smuggle in with the most hated right-wingers: the Northern Irish protesters who make Trump progressive in comparison. No rights for gays, no abortions, nothing. Poor May.

Who is the big winner? The least likely of all unlikely persons: Jeremy Corbyn (another with a good Hebrew name: Jeremy / Jeremiah was a great prophet in the Bible).

Fight against the established. Corbyn is as unlikely an almost-winner as possible: ultra-pure, ultra-all-possible. Many members of his own party despise him. But he was close to winning the election. In any case, he made it impossible for Theresa May to govern effectively.

Corbyn's performance brings to life memories of something quite similar that happened in the US election within the Democratic Party. Official candidate Hillary Clinton aroused widespread antipathy in her own party – while a rather unlikely alternative candidate created a wave of admiration and enthusiasm: Bernie Sanders. Not the most promising candidate: 78 years old, ten year senator. Still, he was celebrated as half as old a newcomer. If he had become the party's candidate, there is little doubt that he would be president today (although poor Hillary got the most votes from the people).

In France, socialists, fascists and everyone in between with an arm movement were swept down from the chessboard by an unknown non-politician.

Do all these victories and the next victories have something in common? Do they together constitute a "wave"? At first glance, no. Did not win the left (Trump, Brexit), nor did the right (Macron, Corbyn, Sanders). So, are there any common features? Oh yes, it does. Namely, the rebellion against the established. All these people who won, or almost won, had this in common: They crushed the established parties. Trump won despite Republicans, Sanders fought against the Democratic establishment, Corbyn against the Labor pumps, Macron against everyone. The Brexit vote was, first and foremost, a reaction against the British establishment. This is the new wave: Out with the established, whatever it is.

And in Israel? We're not there yet. We are always late. The last national movement in Europe. The latest new state. The last colony in the empire. But we always reach the end.

Half of Israel, that is, about the entire left as well as the center, is clinically dead. The Labor Party, which has been sitting in power virtually alone for 40 years, is a sad ruin. The right side is divided into four competing parties, trying to introduce an almost fascist program in all areas of life. I just hope that something will happen before they succeed completely.

We need a leader with principles like Corbyn and Sanders. A young and idealistic person like Macron. One that will crush all the parties from the occupation arena and start over. To adapt Macron's slogan: Go ahead, Israel!
Commentator in Ny Tid. Avnery is a former member of the Knesset in Israel. Israeli journalist and peace activist (born 1923).

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