The election of Isaac Herzog as chairman of the Labor Party and the rejection of his predecessor, Shelly Yacimovich, will not cause any shake-ups in Israeli politics. It’s been years since the Labor Party has been seen as an alternative to the right wing’s rule and Yacimovich’s replacement by Herzog isn’t likely to change this sad situation.
Expectations of Herzog, who scored an impressive victory, are not high. Although he has served as a minister in several mid-level ministries in previous right-wing governments, he didn’t institute any significant revolutions, never fought doggedly for a specific policy and to date doesn’t look like he has the stuff leaders are made of. Nor has the Labor faction in the Knesset been a particularly feisty opposition, and most of its rookie MKs have failed to make their mark.
One cannot overstate the importance of building a real opposition to the Likud government and offering a serious alternative to the rule of the right. Without alternatives or an opposition there is no democracy. This task now lies on the shoulders of the new opposition leader. But Herzog’s record shows him leaning in the opposite direction; he always supported joining the governments of the right. As Labor Party leader he will have to change his spots and make a fundamental change in his approach.
The only chance his party has of ever returning to national leadership is by clearly and determinedly differentiating itself from the right and by building strength to battle the right-wing regime. Herzog will have to refute the fears that he plans to join the most right-wing, nationalist government Israel has ever had by declaring unequivocally that Labor, under his leadership, will not join this government.
Yacimovich was dumped as party leader because, among other things, she stubbornly refused to fight for crucial political issues and because during her tenure one hardly heard the party’s voice in the struggle against the oppression of civil and human rights, which is the central focus of the current right-wing government. Labor Party voters are apparently smarter than the woman who stood at its helm; they punished her for her stubbornness and apparently understood that democracy and social justice cannot coexist with occupation and dispossession.
Herzog, who has spent a great deal more time than his predecessor on diplomatic issues, has to get the message. Declaiming the old diplomatic stances is not enough; Labor must refresh its diplomatic positions, some of which have long been irrelevant. We wish Herzog success, which will only be achieved if he turns his party into a fighting opposition on all issues.
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