For the first time in months, the Yahad faction will not be holding its weekly meeting today. Most of its members, a total of six, have other demands on their time. If the meeting had taken place, the members might have been exposed to the findings of an internal poll conducted last week by Yossi Vadana of the Panorama Markets polling firm, which was commissioned by faction member Haim Oron.
Oron asked for the poll partly to settle once and for all the issue of the party's name. Yahad (an acronym for Yisrael Hevratit Democratit, or Social Democratic Israel), the new name conceived in the merger between party chairman Yossi Beilin's Shahar movement and Meretz, hasn't quite caught on with the public. Until now, it was merely a feeling that nagged at Meretz members, but the results of the poll are indisputable: In answer to a question that gauged the degree of awareness among voters of the left and center in Israel (primarily Shinui, Labor and Meretz voters in the 2003 elections), 66 percent of respondents said they had not heard of the Yahad Party. Sixty-six!
Many respondents ascribed the name Yahad to other political frameworks, such as to Amir Peretz, chairman of the One People party. Among Meretz voters in 2003 who were asked which name they preferred, 33 percent said Yahad, 13 percent didn't care either way, 40 percent favored Meretz, and 9 percent were evenly enthusiastic about the two names. Oron was at a loss yesterday to explain how the findings of the poll had leaked, even before being presented to the faction. Nevertheless, in a conversation with Haaretz, he did not try to hide anything, not even his own personal viewpoint. "I don't hide my stance that it would be better to go back to the Meretz name," he says, "but you can also interpret the data in a different way. I'm not sure we'll take the decision about the name solely on the basis of this poll. If the elections don't take place as I think they will this year, in 2005, but rather in early 2006 or in mid-2006, it may very well be that someone will come and say that we have to think of the long-term, and that Yahad can still pick up momentum. And to the same extent, it could be that someone else will come and say that if the name Yahad doesn't catch on by tomorrow, it's not going to catch on at all."
Is there any room for optimism? Sure, says Oron. Based on the poll, 50 percent of Shinui voters are not sure that they would vote for the party in subsequent elections, or are pretty certain that they wouldn't. This is fertile ground for drawing votes to Meretz. Or Yahad. It depends. Which one rings more positive? Yahad is seen in the poll as the party with the cleanest record. All very fine and good, but will the next elections revolve around clean records? Hard to believe.
Beilin's office responded that the object of the poll was to gauge the positions of the public that could potentially vote for the party in the next elections. "As for the brand," said Beilin's spokesman, "no serious work has been done yet to permeate it. This brand has not existed for a sufficient time and there is no intention of drawing any operative conclusions regarding it. The poll reveals that there aren't any Meretz voters for whom the change of name will cause them not to vote for Yahad in the future." The spokesman, Uri Zakai, said that if Beilin had thought that there was anything in the name of the party that might diminish the party's strength in the next election, even slightly, he would be actively working to change it.
The findings of the poll are heavy ammunition in the hands of Beilin's rivals in the faction and in the party, who are looking for any opportunity to undermine his status, even in the hands of those who are not opposed to him personally but who believe that the party should revert to the old name, the well-known brand, for better or for worse, that brought the party both victories and setbacks, days of joy and tears. If in the wake of this information it is decided that Yahad will revert to the name Meretz, it will come as a difficult blow to Beilin. For that is all that he brought with him to the party, except for the Geneva Initiative, and the rivalry that is now being portrayed as eternal with his predecessor, Yossi Sarid.
Crisis of leadership
For many years, MK Eitan Cabel wished to become chairman of the Labor faction in the Knesset. After his party entered the Sharon coalition, and the post of faction chair that had been held by Dalia Itzik became vacant, Cabel was able to realize his dream. And what was his first act as brand-new faction chair? He sent a letter to all of the members of his party's central committee in which he tore the party to shreds, along with its chairman and ranking members, practically prophesying its demise.
"There is a crisis of leadership in the Labor Party," Cabel writes to members of the central committee, telling them something they already know, "but it is the symptom of an even deeper problem: the lack of true solidarity among the members, and especially between the party's leaders and members. The difficulty in cooperating out of a sincere view of the objectives that are above the personal interest hurts us tremendously. The empty void of the lack of internal solidarity, the lack of any joy of creation and cooperation and lack of true leadership has been taken over by a sort of legal-organizational `tyranny' that solves problems through judicial petitions, some petty, some businesslike, and batteries of lawyers. Any party that is governed by filers of petitions and judicial verdicts does not have the right to exist."
Last Thursday evening, Cabel stood on the stage of a school in Herut, a moshav in the Sharon, and celebrated along with three of his young colleagues, the neophyte ministers Ophir Pines-Paz, Isaac (Buzi) Herzog and Shalom Simhon, their upgrade in the Labor Party hierarchy. In the world of partisan concepts, the decision by the four to hold a joint victory party is a sort of declaration of war against all the rest. Especially against the "Old Guard," as some people call the Fuad-Vilnai-Sneh-Itzik and co. gang - those people who were mentioned, without names, in Cabel's letter to the central committee members. Why a declaration of war? Because successful collaboration between these four men, primarily in the primaries for selection of the MKs, could lead to the party veterans' departure from the top of the next list.
More than 1,000 central committee members came to the Hadar Hasharon school last Thursday. Milling about in the background were rumors of sabotage attempts by the veterans, who were ostensibly taking action to prevent people from joining the festivities. No need for concern: These sorts of rumors are the lot of every self-respecting party conference. And they always come from the conference organizers.
Among the four, there is not yet full agreement regarding their next step. One of them explained that although Pines-Paz spoke first, as the highest ranking elected minister, he should not be seen as leader of the group; Simhon expressly spoke of the formation of a political axis (he even asked Cabel to take responsibility for coordinating this move among the four). As is his wont, Herzog was more cautious. Cabel spoke of revolution, and Pines-Paz said something about an opportunity that had fallen into their laps that mustn't be missed. For the axis to be formed, they would have to unite behind one candidate for the Labor leadership prior to the primaries, which are to be held on June 28 of this year if they are not postponed. Simhon is already committed to Barak. Cabel, who was in advanced talks with Barak to throw him his support, has withdrawn recently, perhaps a tactical withdrawal in the direction of Amir Peretz. Herzog and Pines are considered potential backers of Barak. It's hard to see them going with any other candidate, for now.
To the outside, the meeting that took place a few days ago in the Knesset cafeteria between Environment Minister Simhon and the chairman of his party, Shimon Peres, was pleasant enough to look at. But the words that were said, primarily by Simhon, were most harsh. The subject of the conversation was appointment of Labor ministers to the diplomatic- security cabinet.
Following formation of the coalition, Peres decided to appoint the ministers Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Dalia Itzik and Ophir Pines-Paz as permanent members of the cabinet. Without any rotation with the other ministers, as many in the party had suggested to him. He appointed himself as an observer. Matan Vilnai, Isaac Herzog, Haim Ramon and Simhon were left out. Ramon will get along fine. In any case, he is involved on the diplomatic front - both as a close associate to Vice Premier Peres, and as a member of the diplomatic steering team and as a close buddy of Dov Weisglass, Sharon's special adviser.
But Simhon, Herzog and Vilnai (a reserve major general and deputy chief of staff) were left out of the loop. Herzog and Vilnai raised a protest, but Simhon took it even further: He informed Peres that he insists there be rotation and that until the matter is settled he will not be taking part in any meetings of Sareinu, the Labor ministers' circle. "It isn't personal," Simhon told Peres. "But this is an act of hooliganism, of deciding in this fashion who will be in the cabinet and who won't."
"We'll talk about it some other time," Peres said. "Maybe a few meetings from now in Sareinu." "If that's how it is," Simhon responded, "I'll come only for the meeting at which the discussion will take place. Let me know."
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