Analysis

Lapid Is the Only Winner as Israeli Labor Party Hits New Low

The left-wing faction keeps on finding ever more imaginative ways of shooting itself in the foot.

Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid speaks at a party meeting, January 2, 2017.
Emil Salman

When Shimon Peres once complained during an election campaign that the Likud party was committing character assassination against him, Likud leader Menachem Begin retorted that he was committing character suicide. This wickedly brilliant retort describes exactly what the leaders of today’s Labor Party are still doing to themselves, but with even greater vigor.

Over the last two years, this party has gone from failure to failure. The extinguished torch has been passed from generation to generation, and the one celebrating is Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid.

The man with the least talent, experience and moral baggage in Israeli politics will have no trouble continuing to pick up the seats dropped like abandoned eggs by the Labor Party/Zionist Union (or at least retaining those that have already fallen into his lap) when the latter is his competition for the hearts of the center-left electorate.

The story of the denied deal between MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Eitan Cabel is undoubtedly worthy of Begin’s definition. When the two bitter rivals agreed that Yacimovich would use Cabel’s faction in the Histadrut labor federation as a springboard to the organization’s leadership, they both unequivocally denied any accompanying agreement about her supporting him as chairman of Labor, should he run.

From the start, this seemed bizarre: If it smells like a deal, sounds like a deal and looks like a deal, it must be a deal.

On Thursday, when the tape turned up on Israeli television news – when Cabel is heard saying, among other things, “Shelly has committed to support me for Labor chairman”; “This is a force multiplier”; “She has 20 percent [of the party],” and so forth – they continued denying it.

The next day, when the written agreement they had concealed became public, including its explicit statement that “Eitan and Shelly” would assist each other in every sphere – both in the party and in the Histadrut – like broken records, both of them persisted in their denials.

If it was all so kosher, moral and pure, why did they hide it? After all, had they made the document public, nobody would have batted an eyelash. Deals like that are an inseparable part of political life, and there’s nothing wrong with them.

But when you insist on projecting an image of clean hands, purism and self-righteousness even when it isn’t necessary, you end up causing trouble.

It’s very doubtful that Cabel will run for the Labor Party leadership in July. And Yacimovich’s race for the Histadrut leadership has been dealt a serious blow. Her rival, incumbent chairman Avi Nissenkorn – who wasn’t elected, but rather was anointed by his predecessor, Ofer Eini, and who also made every effort this time to prevent democratic elections – is likely to benefit from the vacuum.

The Labor Party’s bizarre performances don’t end with the Shelly and Eitan show. Every day, a new candidate joins the leadership race. The list from the last week alone comprises Eldad Yaniv, Omer Bar-Lev and Avi Gabbay, who joined the party just a few months ago. Each of them outdid the others in the bizarreness of the timing and manner in which they announced their intentions. Soon, this party will have more leadership candidates than the number of Knesset seats polls show it winning.

On Sunday, the cabinet is expected to increase the already enormous budget for yeshivas. But what difference does that make? Benjamin Netanyahu’s government can do whatever it pleases. The opposition is busy blasting itself to smithereens.

And if we’re already talking about bizarre political developments, it’s impossible to refrain from mentioning former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. On Friday, he told Haaretz that he has chosen what he termed the most challenging option: establishing a new party, with himself as its head, via which he will run for prime minister. On Saturday, he repeated this at a culture event in Tel Aviv.

Is this how you make such an announcement? Almost offhandedly? Not at a press conference? Not at an event with your supporters and activists? Modesty and humility are laudable character traits in an age when cigars and champagne and hedonism and covetousness have become the be-all and end-all. But even with modesty and humility, one shouldn’t overdo it.