In one of the past week's election advertisements, the chairman of the Labor Party, Amram Mitzna, looked straight into the camera and said how many young men and women will get out of the army this year. "When they come back from their travels overseas," he said, "they need to be guaranteed a future here."
That was a touching text. But to whom, exactly was it directed? From which neighborhoods and cities do young people go to India and Latin America after the army? Usually, from those same districts where the people who voted for Mitzna in the Labor Party primaries can be found: North Tel Aviv, Ra'anana and Kfar Sava, some established moshavim and kibbutzim that survived the crisis - the hardcore doves of Labor and Meretz.
What happened to the Labor Party, which for the first time in its history turned to that small, permanent - and already convinced - constituency? What made Mitzna make unequivocal declarations, though with a few zigzags and full of contradictions, that turned its back on a large segment of the population traditionally connected to Labor, for whom the Likud and Shinui have become their default? What led a party, which for its entire existence had the ability to rule and execute, and operate as a strong center, using what appeared to be its very weakness - its constant ideological haziness - to suddenly redefine itself as Meretz 2, consciously giving up the ability to really influence events?
It's possible, of course, to blame Mitzna's advisers and his own lack of experience. It's also possible, as many are doing in the left, to continue praising him to high heaven for his integrity and political daring, all the while slinging mud at the miserable, backstabbing, conspiratorial party, which left him alone in the field. Either way, the fact is Labor, which began the race from a not very strong 24 seats in the polls, and an unflattering image as a party linked to the government that had lost its identity - arrives at Election Day this morning with horrifying polls predicting it will decline to 18 seats, and with an alienated and irrelevant image. Suddenly, the hostility toward historic Mapai raised its head and all those who have been discriminated against and marginalized, who joined it in 1992 because of Yitzhak Rabin and his new agenda, regard it as beyond the pale.
One could regard Labor's foolish suicide, described so poetically and tragically in Haim Ramon's speech about the beached whales, with a certain degree of acceptance, if not for the way it has harmed Meretz (devoted Meretz voters will be casting ballots today for Labor out of panic) and dragged the entire left down.
But Labor did not commit suicide on its own. Two assassins, both from the army, helped it. The first, Ehud Barak, sliced apart in one swoop the delicate threads that Rabin wove between Labor and Shas and between Labor and the Arabs, and then, by his own definition, tore the mask off Arafat's face. His regrettable failure was the start of the assassination of Oslo.
Then Labor fibrillated a little longer in the government. It's possible it was on the verge of breaking up, moderately and not destructively, when Ariel Sharon would have fulfilled his grand dream and swept parts of it into his ruling party and thus become the founder of Mapai 2. That would have enabled him to get rid of the extreme right, and together with the Haredim, so dear to his heart, maybe lead to some form of political deal with the Palestinians. People like Yossi Beilin, Yael Dayan and others would have naturally ended up in Meretz, which could have grown stronger as a genuine party of the left, with not only a sharply dovish agenda, but with an opposition social-economic platform.
But the precise opposite happened. Three months before the elections, Mitzna, who read the polls proving that most of the public wants to get rid of the settlements, was convinced, with an innocence bordering on dangerous naivete, that a large segment of the population would be in thrall to his statements. Two months later, when he understood he was heading to the opposition, he said that even if the public doesn't understand now, it will understand the next time.
That position may prove that he sticks to the integrity of his positions, but it does not inspire much respect for his political abilities and leadership. Someone with that degree of contempt for the public's judgment, insulted when a poor single mother is afraid of his political plan ("Gaza is what frightens you?"), isn't speaking as a future leader, but as representative of a sector. Thus, overflowing with good intentions, Mitzna finished off the military assassination of Labor.
And that's apparently what happened to the party. The public could have continued voting for it in wide swathes, but its leaders chose to behave like they were a segment of society. The other parties - Shinui, Shas, the National Religious Party and United Torah Judaism - speak openly about representing a homogeneous constituency. Labor pretends it belongs to everyone, but behaves like that small group of parents whose kids have come back from India. The group has long since felt that "they" have taken over the country. Their children vote Green Leaf and Shinui, while they dream of another Israel, like in America. Between one dream and the other, they abandoned the real Israel and left it in the hands of the right.
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