Captain Yacimovich Is Taking the Labor Ship Down With Her

Instead of providing an opportunity for inspiring new leaders to rise up through the ranks, Labor Party chairman Shelly Yacimovich is moving the leadership primaries forward to ensure she stays at the helm.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Hi, it's Uri. I wanted to say a few words about Labor Party leader and MK Shelly Yacimovich.

The article that roused me this morning was about Yacimovich's intention to move forward her party's leadership primaries. According to the reporter, Jonathan Lis, "The step is expected to help Yacimovich preserve her position at the helm of the Labor Party."

Now, let's lays things out. Until the Knesset election in January, I would frequently criticize candidate Yacimovich. I thought she was making every mistake possible ahead of the polls, and I predicted a stinging failure on Election Day. Since the election results, I have barely mentioned her in my blog. Naturally, my attention wandered to the formation of the government coalition and the 100 days of unkindness that the current right-wing government gave Israelis.

With respect to Yacimovich, I recently wrote that in stark contrast to the period before the election, since the elections, she has been doing everything right as opposition leader. I have also pointed out her proven abilities, like serious legislative work and deep understanding of budgetary proposals and their implications (in contrast to the serving finance minister). All that is well and good, but when it comes to electoral politics, it shouldn't be forgotten who we're talking about.

For starters, let's remember the size of her failure. The Labor Party under Yacimovich's leadership won 15 Knesset seats in the last elections – only two seats away from the dismal nadir reached in the previous Knesset elections by then-Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. On the table, alongside what I estimate to have been three Knesset seats from moderate right-wing voters disappointed with Netanyahu, were Kadima's 29 Knesset seats after that party fell apart. Winning these seats should have been Yacimovich's goal.

She managed to pick up two seats. A measly two Knesset seats out of 32 that were up for grabs. Thirty Knesset seats representing centrist and left wing voters remained outside her grasp, while she wasted her time on attempts to flatter and cozy up to the hard right and national religious movement. Let's give a rough breakdown of how these 32 seats were split among the parties.

Kadima retained two Knesset seats under the leadership of Shaul Mofaz, which leaves us with empty 30 seats. Six Knesset seats went to Hatnuah, a party set up ad hoc without any real roots or party institutions, under the leadership of former Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni. Three Knesset seats went to a reinvigorated Meretz. Two Knesset seats went to Yacimovich and the Labor Party. This leaves 19 seats. These 19 seats went to Yesh Atid, the party led by Yair Lapid. Yesh Atid's 19th seat was personally delivered by Yacimovich on a silver platter when she refused to sign a surplus-vote agreement with the left-wing Meretz party to prevent, heaven forbid, the Labor Party from being considered a left-wing party itself. Instead, she teamed up with Yesh Atid.

But Meretz is smaller than the Labor Party and Lapid came out of the election polls larger than the Labor Party. Consequently, in the tug of war of a surplus-vote agreement – where parties agree to be allotted extra votes that don’t add up to a full Knesset seat as a single entity – Yesh Atid received a 19th Knesset seat instead of the Labor Party receiving a 16th seat.

What does this show? Yacimovich is a very weak candidate. She is unlovable and unelectable. She has serious difficulty, even under optimal conditions, breaking through the glass ceiling of the Labor Party, which is suffering from the continual shrinking of its voter base and demographic changes in Israeli society.

Of course, Yacimovich can compete again for the leadership of the Labor Party and seek to do better. But moving internal party elections in an attempt to prevent new and attractive candidates from seriously competing? Pushing forward internal elections to prevent the recruitment of new party members with voting rights and the broadening of the ranks of a party desperate for new blood? Is there really no end to the cynicism and egocentrism of MK Yacimovich?

What she is proposing in effect is to cancel the primaries. Right now, there isn't an inspiring candidate in the party's ranks who can beat her or, more importantly, who can bring new crowds to vote for the Labor Party in the next election. MK Erel Margalit isn't well known enough. MKs Isaac Herzog and Eitan Cabel are too well known.

But if the Labor Party wants to stay alive, it needs a primary at the latest date possible, in which Yacimovich competes against new and inspiring candidates. This is exactly what she is trying to prevent right now – as if everyone is stupid and no one remembers why alternative leadership is needed. So let us remind and remember.

The need was created by Yacimovich's shameful failure in the last elections. Has there been a personal or party-wide stock taking since then? Has an internal party committee of inquiry been established? Was the failure fully investigated? Not that I know. For Yacimovich it is more pressing to ensure the next failure.

Shelly Yacimovich at a press conference at the Knesset in May 2013.Credit: Oren Nahshon

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