The Jewish Report Editorial

What is rightwing and what is leftwing?

  • Vanessa
It is with some trepidation but a great deal of excitement that I begin as the new editor of the Jewish Report. Taking the wheel from Geoff Sifrin who so ably steered this vessel since its inception 16 years ago, is an honour and a responsibility.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Jan 14, 2015

Vanessa Valkin is Editor-in-Chief of the SA Jewish Report

When I met with the Jewish Report’s board in Johannesburg recently, apart from the warm welcome and genuine expression of support, the members had some questions for me: Was I leftwing or rightwing on Israeli-Palestinian issues; and what were my plans for the paper.

Beginning my term here, as the world, and France in particular, reels from the shock of last week’s terror attacks, and as Israel braces for a very important election in March, I could not help but think what the words left and right really mean today.  

The terms originated around the time of the French Revolution and referred to the seating arrangements in France’s legislative bodies. The aristocracy sat on the right of the speaker and the commoners on the left. Those sitting on the left opposed the monarchy and supported revolution, secularisation and the creation of a republic. Those on the right supported the traditional institutions of the old regime.

However, from Republicanism during the French Revolution, like pieces of chewing gum, the terms have been plied and pulled. Leftwing has been used to describe socialism, communism, the civil rights movement, anti-war movements and the US Democrats. And on the right, it has referred to social conservatives, nationalists, free market liberals and the US Republican party.

The concepts of left and right also vary with shifting contexts and time periods. Presently in the US, in academic circles, being even slightly supportive of Israel is considered a rightwing stance, according to Professor David Greenberg of Rutgers University, and could jeopardise one’s career.

What a stark contrast to Israel in the 1940s when the leftwing movement meant Labour Zionism. They believed the formation of a Jewish state needed the Jewish working class to settle in Palestine and were dominant in the leadership of the Israeli military for decades after the formation of the State of Israel in 1948.

The other important point about these differing camps is that when we, as nations or groups, feel stuck, or threatened, we focus in on our differences even more. In fact, a large faction of the Israeli population will be polarised this March election by whether they are voting for a more rightwing Likud-style coalition or a more leftist Labour coalition.

And what does this mean for my own position? Dear members of our board, I know that I am a staunch Zionist with a deep appreciation for the significance of Israel and a passion for the land itself. It’s been a long love affair since I first visited as a girl of 10.

I know that the disproportionate focus the world bestows on the behaviour of the Israeli military when compared with atrocities of other governments and the ever-growing numbers of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe, are of great concern to me.

Yet I am also sorry for the plight of many residents in the West Bank and Gaza because their lives are not easy. And I am deeply horrified by last week’s murders of editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris and of the shoppers in a nearby kosher supermarket.

I am not sure any of these sentiments make me leftwing or rightwing. My hope is that they make me neither.

Why neither? Because those descriptors - left and right - have become our methodology for describing or denigrating the viewpoint of the Other. It becomes almost an insult. And so, instead, I am hoping that my views show me to be a person, who just like all of you, desires peaceful outcomes all over the world.

By honing in on whether we are leftwing or rightwing and fiercely criticising those with differing perspectives, we minimise that what most of us want, is a peaceful, sustainable and humane Israel, and a world without the senseless kind of killing of al-Qaida and Islamic State-linked militants.

And to the second question: What are my plans and vision for the Jewish Report? I intend to keep the strong and modulated political focus the paper has upheld until now. But I also plan to maintain a zoom lens on our fascinating community - people with amazing stories, both here and abroad.

We will be covering our milestones, our mishaps, our celebrations and our tribulations. We know that our community wants to read about each other and about the social, educational, cultural, political and religious issues that matter to us.

As a weekly publication, the paper cannot be a daily destination for news on Israel or on local and global Jewish issues, but our website can be that and we intend to make it more so. Today readers also engage with the news through social media platforms and mobile devices and we want to take advantage of all those opportunities. 

So, welcome aboard and as we navigate the sometimes stormy currents ahead, please remember, revered readers, to focus more on the positive, shared outcomes we all desire and less on the different routes to get there.


  1. 14 Eli Goldstein 14 Jan
    Bienvenue to SA Jewish Report - Wishing you every success in your new position.

    Best regards

    Eli Goldstein
  2. 13 Mark Turpin 14 Jan
    Good luck with your new position Vanessa.  I would like to suggest one change from the past.  Please, in the spirit of promoting tolerance and removing denigration, can I ask that you refrain from publishing letters that are abusive of others - whether they are within or outside the Jewish community.  I would regard the labeling of people as 'self-hating' as abusive.  Encourage people to address issues, rather than labeling people whose views we might disagree with!  And good luck.
  3. 12 Judith Yacov 14 Jan
    I find your approach and desire not to be categorized as very refreshing and a wonderful start for bringing people of different views together in useful dialogue to find the common denominators instead of the points of division and conflict.  Good luck.  I shall be following the paper from Israel.
  4. 11 TAMAR MILSHTEIN 14 Jan
    Beautifully written cousin! Wishing you all the luck and satisfaction in your new position.  I  sure it ia going to be a fascinating journey. bon voyage!
  5. 10 abu mamzer 15 Jan
    The three Estates:Royalty,Church and people characterized the French Revolution.
    But in the debates this last week in France,everybody forget the 4th Estate,namely the YOU!
    Just practise non-censorship.Unfortunately for the Moslem community,any analysis,or questioning is regarded as incitement.The ridicule of Islam's leader is more directed at what Islam has come to represent, not his personage.Do not stifle debate.We're not scared of it.
  6. 9 Cecil Miller 15 Jan
    Its hardly surprising, for fear of upsetting any particular group, that you are not willing to take a stance on whether you are left or right, i.e. as we have come to accept and understand the meaning and intention of "left" and 'right". Having only just assumed the position and role of Editor in Chief, for which I sincerely wish you the best of success, one may appreciate the difficulty that you experience prior to fully absorbing the views and feelings of the community. For my part, I certainly hope that you will be sufficiently bold to be 100% (or as close as possible) pro Israel and not be seen in any way to be pro terrorist or pro our enemies locally or internationally and certainly not aligned in any way to the wearing of kafiot symbolic of those that reflect anti Israel sentiment.
  7. 8 David Abel 15 Jan
    While wishing you, Vanessa, all the best - one cannot but comment that your political nihilism may be the correct personal posture befitting the editor of the SAJR, Zionism bereft of its ideology is Zionism bereft of its soul.
    LikudSA's promotion within Zionism of national liberalism, free enterprise and individual liberty motivates members of the Jewish community towards what is, in our opinion, the desirable collective mindset for the good.
    Also, practically speaking, it attracts the active participation of many sympathizers who would otherwise be passive or indifferent to the Zionist cause.

    David Abel
    National Vice Chairman
    Likud South Africa
  8. 7 David Abel 15 Jan
    Also, Ant - as the online editor - I implore you to please change the format of the code to gain entry into the SAJR - I know of people who have simply given up trying to comment because of the difficulty being experienced (myself included on several occasions)
    Thank you in anticipation.
  9. 6 joe public 15 Jan
    Well played and good luck - remember .. anachnu charlie
    anachnu yedudim
  10. 5 Shira Druion 15 Jan
    Best of luck to the new ed! Your sterling attributes and diplomatic approach will surely usher in a genre of much success for both you and the SAJR!
    Will be following from London!

  11. 4 David Shapiro 15 Jan
    Hi Vanessa,
    Firstly,mazaltov on being chosen as the new editor of the SAJR,best of luck to you.
    On reading your comment on what your plans and visions are  for the Jewish Report ,that you plan to zoom lens onto our fascinating community.In this regard,why not bring back the old popular column "Communuty Buzz"which in the past brought so many old & new communities together and was so well run by Lionel Slier,and read by so many.
    Again,my best wishes to you on this your new venture.
    Kind regards
    David Shapiro
    Cape Town
  12. 3 Leslie Harris 15 Jan
    Dear Ms Valkin,

    As someone who has occupied a hotseat similar to the one you now enjoy, I congratulate you on your new position and offer condolences for the "tzores" that is sure to come.

    Kol Hakavod on the above piece. It is indeed refreshing to hear a voice that boldly recognises the need for respecting the individual in an age of narcissism and the neverending rush for the selfie to top all selfies.

    May your hotseat never get too hot, but remain comfortably warm as you steer your vessel through stormy waters.

    Kind regards,
    Leslie Harris
  13. 2 Jonni 16 Jan
    David Beckham is right wing
    Bryan Habana is left wing

    Keep your sense of humour and all will be well
  14. 1 nat cheiman 18 Jan
    Right wing and left wing are so passe now.
    Now there are terrorists, imbeciles(Desai & co) and clowns (like many in our gov).
    The rest are normal pro Israel/jew or anti Israel/ jew.
    Good luck with all the Loons that are sure to give you lotsa tzores


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