When Ehud Barak joined the Netanyahu government, while breaking his promise to the electorate to sit in the opposition, I suspended my membership in the Labor Party after decades of working in its institutions. Now, at the very last minute, I've signed up again.
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I felt that a good wind was blowing, a sudden awakening, a desire to live, go out and fight.
Many factors brought down the party that had established the state and built its foundations - the main ones, I think, were the betrayal of the party's ways, aims and voters, and its leaders' sticking to their chairs in the government, which turned it into a pitiful appendage of Likud. Now the voter understands the party's importance in the political arena and is giving it another chance - the last, I believe.
To face the challenge, the party needs a leader who is head and shoulders above the rest. If there is no obvious figure like that, the winner among the six candidates must build a collective management team from among the minds and forces that can be enlisted from within and without - both now and for the Knesset elections. The party needs a unified leadership that will recognize the elected leader and get help from experts not beholden to traditional notions. Camps and ego battles are a tried recipe for destruction. The electorate will not give the party another chance.
For many decades, Labor's leaders picked the fruits from the orchards that had been planted by the founders and depleted them of fruit and leaves. They neither sowed nor planted; they merely took. Now the party needs someone to rehabilitate and rebuild it, to renew the connection with social groups that deserted it. It must offer them a path, hope and reliability. It must fight for principles and stick to its promises.
On the political level, it must state in a clear voice that it supports an agreement with the Palestinians within the Six-Day-War borders, the division of Jerusalem, and land swaps, while preserving the state's security and democratic and Jewish character. It must call on the world day and night to be aware of the danger of a demographic problem that threatens us and could destroy the country from within, turning it into a binational state.
The party lent a hand to Likud in destroying the welfare state that it itself had built, deepened the social gaps, increased the number of people living below the poverty line and polarized Israeli society. It became, in the eyes of the electorate, a party of the upper classes instead of a party that represents and fights for the working public and middle class. Today it must spearhead the social struggle, as a social-democratic party, and return the residents of the poorer neighborhoods, the development towns, the middle class and the laborers to its ranks. It must regain the trust of the Arab public and fight for equal rights for that community and the investments it needs.
A social-democratic party must have its own approach to subjects of national importance in all spheres of existence - peace and security, the country's status in the world, health, education, housing, quality of life, the attitude toward minorities, social solidarity and many others. It has to shun the approach of the parties on the right, which do not represent the interests of the middle class and the workers. The test of a party leadership lies in its ability to offer a different path. In recent years, after its image has been blurred following a long stint in the coalition with Likud, the voter has asked what the difference is between Labor and Likud, or Labor and Kadima.
We must not be overwhelmed by the good spirit that the latest party census brought. The road is still long and there is much fighting ahead. Active and effective institutions must be set up, people must go out in the field and attract others who have capabilities and an ideological backbone, the corrupt system of primaries and party districting must be stopped and the party must be built in a different way. And the discussions and discourse inside the party must be revived.
Participating in weddings and bar mitzvahs is no substitute for a path or an ideology. This is a moment of grace, and it is vital to make the most of it. Our polarized society of immigrants with its two large minorities needs a social-democratic party that seeks peace and a well-ordered society that will raise both political and social banners. Israel needs a Labor Party - that is the significance of the latest census.
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