Labor Party Confab: Faked Enthusiasm, Muted Support

The hall was packed and the smell of hope was in the air on Sunday, but there’s no guarantee it will last through Election Day in March.

Tomer Appelbaum

The Labor Party Central Committee faked its enthusiasm on Sunday, when it unanimously approved the alliance with Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah for the March 17 general election. The hall was full, and busier than usual, and the color had returned to the pallid cheeks. Something new was in the air, something like hope, or promise, and even two weeks ago the same event would probably have seemed more like a funeral.

But when the delegates chanted “Hu-ha, look who’s here, it’s the next prime minister” (a cheer that originated with Likud) and when party chairman Isaac Herzog shouted “Mahapakh!,” an upset — and he did so five times, each time waving a more threatening finger at the crowd — the falseness was evident.

The new instructions of the image consultants were more or less obeyed; Bougie’s dead, long live Herzog. Indeed, who could take a prime ministerial candidate named “Bougie” seriously? So from now on the name is Herzog. Isaac Herzog. Shelly Yacimovich, the hero of the evening, disobeyed orders and let slip a Bougie. Party general secretary Hilik Bar, the man whose high point in the outgoing Knesset was a grotesque request of the British Parliament not to recognize a Palestinian state, also said Bougie by mistake, but quickly corrected himself.

Isaac Herzog was welcomed with open, yet reserved admiration. But in the history of this battered and conflicted party there have been very few displays of unity like that at Sunday’s convention. Given the atmosphere that prevailed, Herzog could probably have passed a resolution to join up with Balad or with the National Union, to conquer the Land of Gilead or to evacuate Lod and Ramle. The delegates caught the scent of victory for the first time in over a decade, and when that happens everything else falls away.

Yacimovich delivered the most generous address ever delivered by a deposed party chairman to her deposer in the history of the Israeli Labor Party, and was widely applauded. When Herzog thanked her by saying, “Thank you Shelly, my friend,” I recalled Shimon Peres’ “Dear Yitzhak” in Hebrew, English, and French, at a Labor Party convention more than 30 years ago. We all know how that ended. I think Herzog yesterday meant it more than Peres.

Very little remains from that era. Here and there I recognized an old familiar face, and I do mean old. Being long-time political hacks, they dealt out hugs, kisses and backslaps as only hacks right before a party primary can.

On stage there were portraits of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin, and in his speech Herzog referred only to those of his predecessors who were dead. “They would have been proud of us,” he said, perhaps hesitant to mention the living.

Judge by the number of television cameras at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center on Monday, Labor is set to recover the throne of power. But when one of the party operatives tried to hand out party flags for delegates to wave for the cameras, he had few takers.