Break up Labor
Labor should be split without any regard to the current confrontation. The struggle over whether to join the coalition is just another expression of the division between the social democrats and neoliberals that has neutered the party and the left in general, and is leading to their extinction as an ideological and political alternative.
Breaking up the Labor Party is the "doomsday weapon" used by those in the party who support joining Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition as well as those who oppose the move. But Labor should be split without any regard to the current confrontation. The struggle over whether to join the coalition is just another expression of the division between the social democrats and neoliberals that has neutered the party and the left in general, and is leading to their extinction as an ideological and political alternative.
Thus, for example, the face-off between Ehud Barak and Amir Peretz that has shaped the Labor Party in recent years reflects fundamental differences regarding the path the party should take. Barak appeals to the established and well-off segment of the population, which constitutes Labor's traditional support base, while Peretz seeks to turn the party into a beacon for the worn down and the disenfranchised. Barak supports privatization, accompanied by empathy for the lower class; Peretz, on the other hand, considers privatization the cause of the weakening of the lower class. He considers empathy to be the absolution of one's conscience, not an element of a policy that would establish a broad-based welfare state.
The need to settle these contradictions - to keep up false appearances of a united party - led Labor to define itself as social democratic. On the other hand, the party voided the term of any content; Labor pushed for privatization while combating its injustices, arguing that it is impossible to dry the swamp, only to fight the mosquitoes.
Contradictions of this sort have transformed Labor into a bitter coalition of rival factions, each neutralizing the other, making the overall message inconsistent and confusing. These contradictions have driven away each faction's natural support base, which explains the party's shrinking by nearly a third in last month's election. Well-off, established voters preferred Tzipi Livni, while the needy and disenfranchised put their trust in Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman.
Until recently, alleged agreement over peace and the territories justified Labor's existence in this maelstrom of factional politics. But now Barak has broken out from even this low common denominator, and a shared political view with Netanyahu appears to exceed even the opposing Labor factions' broad agreement on social and economic issues.
The banner of two states for two peoples has been taken over by Livni, who has left Labor with nothing unique, which is neither social democracy nor the party of "pragmatic peace." Livni's takeover of "the peace" has exposed the weakness of the social-democratic basis of Meretz and Hadash. Meretz adopted the rhetoric of social democrats, but refused to consider the weak and disenfranchised classes target audiences. Similarly, Hadash's declarations favoring a welfare state contradict its demand that the state be weakened as part of its support for a "country of all its citizens," a position that fits the notion of privatizing the welfare state and replacing it with a third sector controlled by business.
Championing a social-democratic agenda, which holds a broad-based welfare state at its center, is the ideological justification and political precondition for the future of Labor and Israel's left. But the erosion of the social-democratic basis due to factional struggles in the various parties, and the spreading (and weakening) of the social democrats among them, are causing the Israeli left to lose its position in society. The absence of a social-democratic party explains the strengthening of the right and of Israeli proto-fascism, where the increasing number of victims of privatization find false response to their needs.
As such, Labor's social democrats must seek to divide the party based on ideological and class distinctions, which already define the factionalism that neutralizes it, regardless of the decision on whether to join the coalition. The split will allow Labor's neoliberals to join Netanyahu and fulfill their goals - both declared and hidden. At the same time the division could be the first step toward creating a social-democratic party that will exchange the left's futile wooing of the established and well-off classes for the wooing of the needy and disenfranchised. This party would work to block the drifting of Israeli society to the right.