Towards an old/new Israeli Labor Party
Why apart from nostalgia should anyone vote for the Israeli Labor party in the future? Shaving Amir Peretz’s trademark mustache just not going to cut it.
Some people, including many professional talking head analysts and undoubtedly many taxi drivers complain that the third election in March 2020 will change nothing. Five Minutes for Israel thinks differently.
The top (Likud and Blue & White) may keep their balance and be unable to cobble together the sixty-one seats for government but we predicted an earthquake at the bottom. Quite possibly Labor out; Meretz out (don’t care) and no party representing the National Religious (dati leumi) leaving the field to two Haredi (ultraorthodox) parties.
As it turns out a minor earthquake. This piece began to take form before Labor-Gesher-Meretz agreed to run a joint list. If opinion polls are any indication the joint list will gain nine seats. That is two less than in the current Knesset confirming my belief that some voters will desert in favour of Blue & White. On the other hand the three parties will probably survive – for now.
Continuation of Hard Labor and what, if anything, is to be done #1
Labor to do list
1) A truly new policy replacing Oslo means throwing Rabin under the bus
It is long past time for the Labor Party to admit their key defining policy has been a failure. Labor is saddled with the failure of the Oslo Accords to bring peace and the reputation for subterfuge, corruption and contempt for democracy, the Knesset and good management that forced it on the Israeli people.
Mea culpa will not be enough. The mea culpa requires admitting that at least on the issue of the Palestinians the Likud is doing more or less what Labor would in its place and what Blue and White will do should they form government.
Labor will have to admit that the two-state policy, which by-the-way Rabin never advocated, has failed dismally and they will have to introduce a completely new policy to take its place.
That’s a huge ask even if they had time to play around with it..
2) Become the workers’ party, once again.
Can anyone name another political party billing itself HaAvoda literally “The Labor” with no connections to the trade union moment and no support from genuine manual workers, except perhaps a limited number in the most powerful industry unions, and perhaps not even that?
The Histadrut AKA the General Organization of Workers in Israel was founded in the early 1920s with David Ben–Gurion as the first Secretary. Yes, that Ben–Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel and leader of Mapai, ancestor of the Labor Party.
Other Labor luminaries, throughout the years, were associated with the union until 1995 when Haim Ramon from Haavoda became Histadrut Secretary General.
The details are too complicated to recount here. Suffice it to say the Histadrut and the Israel Labor Party have changed and weakened to the disadvantage of both.
3) Link again with Kibbutzim and Moshavim
This may prove to be even more difficult than with the Histadrut. The Kibbutz and Moshav movements† have moved far from their socialist roots and much of the prestige has dulled.
Once Kibbutzim and Moshavim were the premier sources for combat officers in the elite regiments or at least that was the myth.
Today those officers seem to be national religious, so called kippa shruga (knitted yamulka). Similarly, it is now the abused settlers over the Green Line, often religious, who have arguably taken over the role of pioneers.
As more and more kibbutzim retreat from the ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs‘ communal philosophy‡ the chance of Labor maintaining a small but dedicated base outside the cities retreats even further.
4) Provide a specific reason to vote Labor
“Don’t like Bibi” will no longer cut it.
No one votes Labor (however labeled) anymore as the default alternative to Likud. Those whose vote is geared to remove the prime minister from power can vote for Gantz.
To be fair, the slogan had long lost its appeal. At one point in the 2015 campaign, Herzog and Livni settled on a slogan, “It’s us or him,” apparently not aware that when pollsters asked Israelis whom they preferred for Prime Minister, a plurality went with Netanyahu, just barely. Netanyahu quickly started using the slogan “It’s us or the left.”
Avi Gabbay’s statement that Elections are between Netanyahu and me, showed a similar degree of tone-deafness.
How Labor-Gesher-Meretz will be able to cobble together a plausible, specific platform in the short period remaining is unclear. Labor and Meretz share the same political grandfathers, so to speak, in two-thirds of the self-proclaimed Left. The remaining third, Left ‘cousin’, Maki, the Israel Communist Party, has long joined other cousins in the Arab Joint List. Orly Levy, the ‘bridge’* between Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz on the other hand, has her roots on both sides of the Jordan††.
Clinging to the same life-raft does not a winning platform make.
5) Continue Gabbay’s real legacy
This may surprise a reader who has reached this far but the former, however briefly, Labor leader (now Cellcom C.E.O.) had a real point. He undoubtedly believed his ‘poor Moroccan boy made good’ resume would automatically win over the Likud’s (and Shas’s) heartland. Although why he thought Amir Peretz with a similar background failed, has never been made public.
Labor can never return while their vote is essentially restricted to the educated, middle-class in Gush Dan. The effort to attract support in the peripheries will be long-term and full of disappointment but it must continue.
So now on to the elections.
- The Unmaking of the Histadrut, Dani Ben Simhon, Challenge Magazine, Issue 88, November/December 2004
† The ‘im’ suffix is the Hebrew plural form. Technically, as this blog is written in English I probably should write kibbutzs or kibbutzes but it is a tongue-breaker to say. Once I decided to go with the ‘im’ plural it just seemed consistent to continue with moshavim.
‡ Popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.
P.S. We are quite aware that ‘What is to be Done‘ was a political pamphlet written by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin published in 1902. The wording choice is deliberate.
* For the non Hebrew audience. Orly Levy’s party, Gesher. translates to ‘bridge’.
†† One of the most known leading songs of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar.