Israel's opposition must present real alternatives
Labor can leverage its situation despite the coalition's solid parliamentary majority and the featherweight opposition in the current Knesset. The question is whether Labor's leadership is up to the task.
The new political reality, which has made the Labor Party leader of the opposition, is a challenge that opens up new possibilities ahead of next year's scheduled elections. Now that the shadow of Kadima's not-so-efficient opposition has been lifted, Labor can leverage its situation despite the coalition's solid parliamentary majority and the featherweight opposition in the current Knesset. The question is whether Labor's leadership is up to the task.
Shelly Yacimovich comes to the opposition's leadership from the media, without diplomatic, managerial or organizational experience. In this, she resembles Yesh Atid's chairman Yair Lapid, although in contrast to his hollow ruminations, she has a clear social-democratic doctrine, which she knows how to get across in her public appearences.
But the main task of the opposition is not speeches and criticism of the government. It is political organization and management, and in these areas Yacimovich has not especially proven herself. Like former opposition head Tzipi Livni before her, Yacimovich also tends to see her position as head of a party - and now as head of the opposition - too much as a solo act, whereas an efficient opposition needs lots of organization, a division of labor and the creation of a suitable leadership team.
Whether the Labor Party sees itself as an alternative to Likud in the next elections, or as a partner in a coalition it does not head, it must now fashion the organizational tools that will allow public opinion to recognize it as speaking in a clear, unified voice. The party leader must already choose a few people who will be responsible for speaking about specific areas and they - not every Knesset member who comes along - will be the ones to lead the party's actions.
This does not mean a response team, which mainly shoots from the hip and does not craft political positions. Rather, this is a group of prominent individuals, each of whom is has expertise and authority in his or her area. As a rule, primary elections do not produce such individuals.
The party needs someone authorized to speak for it in the following areas: foreign policy, security, economics, social affairs, education, health care, the problem of foreign workers and the social protests.
The party must create a policy on diplomatic negotiations, economics and yes, even on the sensitive Iranian issue. The opposition will have no credibility if it only attacks the government. It must present intelligent alternatives that can be conveyed to the public in clear messages.
It must also present leaders the public gets used to seeing as a real alternative to the current leadership. Not exactly a shadow cabinet, but a gallery of individuals who even now the public can picture as authoritative speakers about the issues over which they will be put in charge.
The party chairwoman cannot do this alone, no matter how talented she is. There is also no doubt that putting together such a roster - which by its nature will not be limited only to the party's current Knesset members - will involve struggles over power and prestige. That is the nature of political life.
But without such a leadership team, which will support the party chairwoman especially in areas in which she is not especially strong, the Labor Party has no chance of presenting itself as a real alternative, not just a rhetorical one, to the current government. Without such a move, even the seats the polls now predict for the party will dissipate when the day of reckoning comes.