Hurricane Shelly

In her great effort to 'unify,' Labor's chairwoman is shattering the political camp she leads and highlighting it as an object of derision.

Avirama Golan
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The closer the January 22 Knesset election gets, the more Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich outdoes her predecessor Ehud Barak. With the help of a limited and determined group of activists and the delusion of an impending smashing success at the polls, she is dragging the party toward a dead end. In comments Monday in an interview with the Ynet website, she said that "as long as there is no [peace] agreement, the government must look after the needs of the children in the settlements" because "human beings cannot be written off." This reveals the extent of the danger of her current path, not only for her party by for society at large.

It's not important that she keeps repeating her mantra that the Labor Party is not left-wing. So let's assume that Labor is not leftist but centrist, or rather right-wing centrist. Perhaps social democratic right-wing centrist or right-wing centrist social democratic. What is important is the false rhetoric that Yacimovich is bandying about. Her approach sinks to an insulting level. It creates a one-dimensional picture of reality and at the same time attacks that reality with the same superficiality. She claims Israeli politics is artificially divided into right and left, differing only about the occupation and the Palestinians. She takes issue with such a distinction in favor of "what everyone is interested in," meaning our socioeconomic situation.

And that's misleading. It is true that the dispute with the Palestinians and defense issues are key, but it is not true that the leading politicians have ignored socioeconomic concerns. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin defeated Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister by virtue of Rabin's promise to change government priorities, while Benjamin Netanyahu gained a following as "Mr. Economy." One can and must take issue with the incumbent prime minister, but it's hard to accuse Netanyahu of dealing only with security. On the contrary, his views are the ones most similar to Yacimovich's. He too is convinced that there is no connection between the economic and the diplomatic situation.

Yacimovich claims the left betrayed the country because it has dealt only with the occupation and demonstrated indifference to society. Of course there is a basis to what she says, as with other slogans she uses. The deep moral confusion that is fed by a mix of conflict, occupation, neoliberalism, an immigrant society and the melding of religion and state defines every Israeli liberal who espouses human rights as left-wing, and views anyone whose cause is "social" or "populist" as a Likudnik, meaning right-wing.

As society has disintegrated into different sectorial interests, such hostile images have become more sharply apparent. Those left-wingers are Ashkenazi Tel Aviv Palestinian-lovers who hate our Jewish brothers. The ultra-Orthodox are exploiters who shirk their duty to serve in the army. Israeli Arabs are an economic burden who should prove their loyalty to the state, and West Bank settlers are, depending upon your point of view, either Zionist pioneers or a national disaster.

In the guise of shattering this divisive perspective, Yacimovich actually reinforces it more than any other politician. By saying that the settlers are human beings who cannot be written off, she casts grave aspersions on those who oppose the occupation and automatically labels them as settler-haters par excellence, just as the delusional characterization of Labor as the party that established the settlements is an accusation borne of self-righteous hypocrisy. Both images, that of the anti-occupation camp and of the Labor Party, are based on a shallow worldview that reinforces hatred and a sense of one's socioeconomic and cultural place.

In 2005, Yacimovich said that "while a welfare state was being obliterated here, while investment in development towns was stopped, a substitute welfare state was being established beyond the Green Line" in the territories. She also said at the time that the "massive enterprise of the occupation hurt the economy and the country's social safety net."

She knows full well that this doesn't involve the rights of children but rather a reality that endangers this society's strength and order of national priorities. Nonetheless, she prefers to treat this reality without peace as a natural phenomenon, rather than as a challenge that must be addressed by a political leader. She denigrates the clear national and social morality that informs opposition to the occupation and to investment in the settlements.

Because the people being denigrated are first and foremost those who have traditionally voted for the Labor Party, it seems they are beginning to understand that Yacimovich's path amounts to a political distortion. In her great effort to "unify," Labor's chairwoman is shattering the political camp she leads and highlighting it as an object of derision.