On Monday Labor party members will do what they are used to doing - electing a new leader. The past decade has seen Labor with seven leaders, including the one to be elected Monday. This is a party that devours its leaders and spits them out before digesting them. From leader to leader, the party's power has declined, its voters have scattered, its status has eroded, its identity has been lost. It has become a subcontractor, a launderer, a fig leaf. It has stood like the beggar at the door of every new government, seeking entrance so as to "influence from within" and "protect the state."
There was one leader that chose a different path: In 2003, Amram Mitzna refused to enter Ariel Sharon's second government. After only three months, Mitzna was gone, humiliated and scorned to such an extent that he completely retired from political life.
Now Mitzna wants a second chance. The polls predict he will lose badly. If they are right, he may be the tragic hero of this campaign. A year ago, when Benjamin Ben-Eliezer approached him and offered his support and that of the Histadrut labor federation's leader, Ofer Eini, Mitzna could have plucked Labor like a ripe fruit. But Mitzna hesitated and came in late. Monday night will reveal whether he was right or wrong.
Although Labor is now a small opposition party (with dreams of becoming medium-sized ), separated from the premiership by 20 Knesset seats and a new socioeconomic reality, this primary could be of national importance. Likud chairman Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni are following it closely. Netanyahu hopes MK Shelly Yachimovich will win; the polls he has seen show that she could take a bite out of Kadima and threaten Livni's hegemony as the women's candidate. But at the same time, she does not split the center-left bloc.
Livni, for her part, will be glad to see Amir Peretz stage a comeback to the Labor chairmanship on Monday. First of all, they have an excellent personal relationship. In the past, there was discussion that he and some of his cohorts would join Kadima. Another reason Livni is keeping her fingers crossed for Peretz: In 2005, when he was first elected Labor chairman, seven Knesset seats defected, not to say fled, from Labor to Kadima, and stayed there. Those are the voters known in political jargon as "the white tribe" - Ashkenazi, Mapainiks, urban, bourgeois residents of central Israel, who are irritated by Peretz because of his ethnic origins. Livni, of course, wants to keep those voters in her party.
Of the four candidates, two have already held the office and resigned in disfavor and one has waited all his life for this chance - Isaac Herzog. The fourth, Yachimovich, is the candidate that can shuffle the party's whole deck. With Peretz, Herzog or Mitzna, things are fairly clear. Yachimovich, although she has been in politics for six years, is still a puzzle.
Dislike for her, especially by party veterans, is matched only by the admiration she garners from young people, many of whom joined the party through her Internet site. If she is elected, she will be the second woman to serve in the position after Golda Meir, who would doubtless say of Yachimovich: "She is not nice."
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