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Breaking Free

Let’s call this a party

Shoshana Kordova
January 21, 2011
(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)
(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said. To view all the entries in this series, click here.

“Declaration of Independence,” reads the headline of a column in an Israeli paper about Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent decision to break from the Labor Party. “The new faction that calls itself Atzmaut”—Independence—“is essentially on its way toward losing its political independence, since in the absence of political power, it will have to support the government without any real objections,” former Israeli politician Uzi Baram opines.

“Independence” is one of those words that you can throw around in a sentence for an easy double entendre—as malleable as the party itself. When Barak announced his defection from Labor, his speech included the words, “We are going forth today toward independence.” And also, we are meant to presume, Independence.

In choosing a single catchy part of everyday vocabulary, Barak followed in the footsteps of Ariel Sharon. As prime minister, Sharon split off from a party beset by deep-seated disagreements over his plan to withdraw from Gaza (even though the name of that party, Likud, translates to “Unification”). Partly as a way to circumvent the so-called party “rebels” who were making every effort to block the disengagement plan, in 2005 Sharon created Kadima—which means “forward” or “onward.” Thus were born memorable campaign slogans like “Kadima with Sharon,” as well as counter-slogans like “Kadima is Backward.” Now, of course, the Forward party is warming the back benches.

Barak’s maneuver this week—and this should sound familiar—essentially hijacked a plan by “rebels” in the Labor Party to create their own breakaway movement. One recent column managed to squeeze in double-edged references to Kadima and Atzmaut in the same paragraph: Discussing Barak’s decision to keep Labor in the Netanyahu government—when quitting Bibi might have won Labor more votes in the next election—media consultant Amos Sarig argues that Barak should have “looked ahead [kadima]” and joined Kadima as an autonomous faction, but that the political leader “preferred his own independence [atzmaut]” instead.

Barak might have cribbed a page from Sharon’s playbook, but at least he had the sense not to jinx himself by giving his party an energetic name like, say, Vigor. You might know that party better by its Hebrew name, Meretz, which seems to have expended most of its vitality on losing seats in the Knesset. As for the future of Atzmaut, only time will tell if it succeeds in securing the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the people of Israel.

Shoshana Kordova is an editor and translator at the English edition of Haaretz. She grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Israel since 2001.

Shoshana Kordova is an editor and translator at the English edition of Haaretz. She grew up in New Jersey and has been living in Israel since 2001.