Save Shelly's Neck

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The Labor Party did poorly – bordering on pitifully – in the recent elections. Their showing is certainly a personal failure for party leader Shelly Yacimovich. She wasn't able to hang on to the enthusiasm that marked her own election as party chairwoman, or harness the real, palpable economic distress that faces most Israelis and translate it into support at the ballot box. Yacimovich hung aloft the banner of social and economic issues, but she couldn't leverage the anti-Bibi atmosphere that propelled her in the last elections.

But does this mean Yacimovich needs to go home? It certainly does not.

Her election campaign suffered in every way possible. She flip-flopped. She was arrogant. Her campaign was too centralized and populist, and she sacrificed left-wingers on the altar of centrist votes. In the absence of proper ideology, those left-wingers flocked to the handsome journalist, the one with boxing gloves resting over his shoulder.

Shelly Yacimovich tried to be Yair Lapid: Tactical, statesmanlike, calculated and fuzzy. For her efforts, she got the cold shoulder. Her potential voters didn't want to see plastic Tupperwares packed with frozen food for her kids. They wanted to see Yacimovich struggling, without the possibility of compromise, against tycoons and against corruption.

And they wanted her to take the fight to the public sector, too, but on that she kept quiet. They wanted her to rail against dragging on the occupation, against maintaining the settlements and in favor of the minorities and the disadvantaged – just as she had when she was a journalist.

But Yacimovich is insecure in her identity as a social-justice warrior, as a dyed-in-the-wool leftist, someone possessing a coherent and distinct ideology, one that isn't agreeable to many. So she found herself competing on someone else's home turf. She suddenly had to play in the National Cuteness Olympics, posing with babies and with dogs.

Rather than highlighting her young, dovish and feminist ticket, she bickered with former Labor Party Leader Amir Peretz, who was once her mentor in the Labor Party and who remains one of its symbols. She appeared in photos riding a bicycle through Tel Aviv's Carmel market with party activists sprinkling confetti on her. In the end, the leftists went to Zahava Gal-On's Meretz, and the entertainment junkies went for Yair Lapid. Just as Ehud Barak will never be one of the guys, Shelly Yacimovich won't ever be a sweetie pie.

None of these criticisms negate the fact that Yacimovich is a worthy leader, one of the few genuine representatives of the middle class (unlike Lappid, she doesn't drive a Jeep or hang out with her cronies at Tel Aviv's Genki club) in the current halls of government. This isn't to object to her firm principles, even if they are controversial, in contrast to the hollow constructions that will sit in the next government and determine our future. This does nothing to negate her amazing rehabilitation of the grunting dinosaur that was the old Labor Party. None of this criticism negates the importance of the social and economic debate that Yacimovich has been involved in for years, even if was very lacking in certain aspects and not without its own problems.

None of this changes the fact that politics desperately needs people like Yacimovich, with her problems and complicated personality, instead of movie stars who don't really say anything at all.

The other day, the Labor Party's newly elected Knesset members balked at sticking their knives into Shelly's back and after a "polite debate" voted to accept her decision not to join the next Netanyahu government. Anyone who recalls the history of the Labor Party, and the cruel and frighteningly short-term memory of the Israeli voter, knows that this is a quite a flimsy insurance policy. In the absence of a political culture, the guillotine is the single public mechanism in Israel that works efficiently. At present, Shelly is just a bad woman. How massive, how dumb, to be tempted to cut off her head.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich. Credit: Moti Milrod

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