Opinion

No, Lower Cheese Prices Isn't a Winning Message for Israel's Labor Party

Gabbay should explain that the right is leading us to annexation of the territories, and therefore to the establishment of a binational state, which means an end to the Zionist dream

Labor Party head Avi Gabbay, September 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Forty-four candidates competed Monday for seven realistic places on the Labor Party Knesset slate. How did the party that established the state deteriorate like that, from 24 seats in the current Knesset to only seven?

The answer should be divided into two parts – an economic reason and a diplomatic reason. Labor has been suffering in the past four years from a hostile takeover by MKs Itzik Shmuli, Stav Shaffir, Yossi Yonah, Merav Michaeli and Shelly Yacimovich. They took the entire steering wheel leftward – economically speaking.

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This is a group that favors increased government intervention in the economy, a big budget, a large deficit, additional taxes, nationalization (of gas), price control (of housing), high customs charges (for milk, chicken and eggs), support for large labor unions (the Israel Electric Corporation), and surrender to the Histadrut labor federation (whenever it threatened to strike). The five of them despise the market economy, competition, free enterprise, opening the market to imports, a restrained budget and lowering taxes. In short, neosocialism.

The public that once voted Labor is exactly the opposite of them. These are people who were never part of a revolutionary proletariat. They have always been members of the comfortable middle class that lives in the cities. In short, the bourgeoisie. They also know that all the very generous offers of Shmuli and his friends will end up with imposing taxes – on them. As opposed to the five, they believe in a competitive market economy, accompanied by assistance and support to the weak and the poor.

But they are opposed to neosocialism, which is opposed to the party’s DNA. Ask former Labor MKs Isaac Herzog, Avraham Shochat and Moshe Shahal. You would get the same answer from Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In other words, Shmuli, Shaffir, Yonah, Michaeli and Yacimovich are the main reason for the party’s mass abandonment by traditional Labor voters, who have fled to centrist parties.

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The second reason for the collapse of the party stems from the diplomatic issue. Avi Gabbay has a winning card in his hand, but he refuses to use it. He recently said: “The diplomatic issue doesn’t interest anyone,” and even added, “I deal with the cost of living.” Nu, really: You want to take over the government by means of the price of cottage cheese? Pathetic. After all, Yacimovich already tried that in 2013, and failed.

Gabbay can talk from now until the cows come home about the shortage of beds in the hospitals. About the great gas robbery and the price of cottage cheese. That doesn’t bring victory. People don’t vote based on the cost of living. They vote for the person who promises them security. And that’s why Benjamin Netanyahu always presents himself as “Mr. Security.” That’s also the reason for the success of the party of the generals, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon.

Gabbay has to take the bull by the horns and explain to the public that Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Hayamin Hehadash are not providing security, but just the opposite: They’re endangering Israel’s very existence by failing to solve the conflict. Gabbay should explain that the right is leading us to annexation of the territories, and therefore to the establishment of a binational state, which means an end to the Zionist dream.

The moment that there is annexation of 2.5 million Arabs, Israel will no longer be a Jewish and democratic state. It will become embroiled in an endless civil war over resources and control, and within a short time will become a country with an Arab majority.

Gabbay must present a clear alternative to Netanyahu: a solution to the conflict, maintaining a solid Jewish majority in Israel and establishing a Palestinian state alongside it, while safeguarding security without any compromises. Gabbay should also explain that the war in the north and in Gaza is a result of the diplomatic freeze. That’s it’s not a law of nature, and that it’s possible to achieve regional peace with the support of all the Arab countries.

Gabbay must turn the present crisis of the Labor Party into an opportunity. That’s all there is to it. He has to present a comprehensive diplomatic thesis, exactly the opposite of Netanyahu’s – that’s the winning card. Blurring the direction and aiming the message more to the center doesn’t bring voters. Nor does lowering the price of cottage cheese win elections.