Labor-Hatnuah Ticket: Tragic Figures and Future Leaders

Five comments on this week's Labor primary and what it means for the party.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich and supporters outside of Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, January 13, 2014.
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich and supporters outside of Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, January 13, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

1. The members of Labor selected a good ticket on Tuesday. They picked a young ensemble, perhaps too young, with many women (a strong card to play, especially when compared with Likud’s testosterone-rich list), socially conscious and lively, that can certainly be presented to the public as candidates who will “take care of people like you.” In other words, the Labor candidates care about Israelis who have a hard time making ends meet, who have despaired of a financially secure future, who are collapsing beneath skyrocketing housing costs and the high cost of living. At present, that’s quite a few people.

So what’s missing? Someone with a background in defense, someone who has military and political experience — and it would not hurt if that person were Mizrahi, too. It’s missing Shaul Mofaz, to put it succinctly: an excellent chief of staff, a good defense minister and an awful politician. The 11th spot on the joint Labor-Hatnuah ticket, reserved for an appointee of party chairman Isaac Herzog, is waiting for him now more than ever.

2. A prominent figure from the Russian immigrant community would also help, as would, perhaps, a religious Zionist candidate. In the end, the chance that Herzog will form the next government depends upon the size of the center-left bloc as a whole, not only on the number of seats won by Labor-Hatnuah. The current ticket is not likely to make moderate Likud voters want to cross party lines and vote Labor. If appealing candidates like Labor faction whip Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit, a leading Israeli venture capitalist who served in the 19th Knesset, were placed higher on the ticket, along with those like Yossi Yonah, a philosophy professor who helped found the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow advocacy group for Jews of Sephardi and Mizrahi descent, that might work in Herzog’s favor in the more important battle.

3. Cabel has become the tragic figure of the Labor primary, which seems to have been conducted in an exemplary manner and makes the Likud primary seem even worse by comparison. Cabel was lured into, or perhaps initiated, a plot with other Laborites, including Margalit and Merav Michaeli, that was aimed at keeping former party leader Shelly Yacimovich and her supporters out of the top spots on the list. In the morning it dawned on him that most of Labor’s members are repulsed by deals and shady workings that carry a nasty stench of attempted takeovers. He was not the only one hurt by the boomerang. So were Michaeli and Margalit, and the big winner was Yacimovich, who won the top spot after the leaders of the joint ticket, Herzog and Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni.

4. There is no doubt that Yacimovich ran a brilliant by-the-book campaign, which included a call for unity as well as an element of victimization and outcry over the deal made by Cabel and his partners. But it was Yacimovich’s integrity that counted, because of her extraordinary conduct from the first moment after Herzog defeated her in the party’s chairmanship race in late 2013, when she demonstrated loyalty to her newly elected successor. She had learned her lesson after previously exhibiting hostility and alienating behavior toward large segments of the party’s constituency, and it seems to have worked. Roughly 80 percent of the voters supported her. The primary election strengthened her status as a powerful figure in the party and as someone who will make it difficult for Herzog to make substantive decisions — such as joining a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu if he is reelected in March, a prospect Yacimovich says she is ruling out for now — without her consent.

5. The great accomplishment of Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, social protest leaders who were elected to the 19th Knesset on the Labor ticket and secured the most votes after Yacimovich in this week’s primary — putting them in the fourth and fifth spots, respectively, on the joint ticket — is not all that surprising. All the voters did was reward Shaffir and Shmuli, who was ranked the most socially conscious lawmaker in an August survey, for their thorough and serious work, for their effort, and for their willingness to fight for socially conscious legislation and their painstaking labor in the Knesset committees day in and day out. Three and a half years ago, Shaffir and Shmuli ran a social justice protest. In the future, they will be running the Labor Party.

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