Analysis

Labor Leader Loses Trademark Mustache, but Election Could Cost Him Much More

What the heck was Channel 12 News thinking when it gave in to a base PR trick by desperate mustache-less Labor-Gesher leader, Amir Peretz?

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz speaking at a party conference, July 31, 2019.
Nir Keidar

The best minds dealt yesterday with this question: Who sank lower, Amir Peretz or those hosting him in the studio?

Peretz, at least, has a good reason to make a fool of himself – or more correctly, six reasons, which is the number of seats the polls predict for his Labor-Gesher party. He is desperate, he is scared, and he fears that his party will sink under the electoral threshold on September 17, and that it will not go to its death alone.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, as the Americans say, and Peretz, at least the comic version of himself, decided to divest himself of his mustache – his trademark for the past 47 years. Perhaps he hopes that along with his mythological mustache, he will also rid himself of the lousy feeling that has accompanied him constantly since he sold his party’s assets for cheap to Orli Levi-Abekasis.

>> Read more: The most urgent thing is removing Netanyahu. But what happens the day after? | Analysis

We already seem to have forgotten what happened here less than two months ago: Peretz gave up joining Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel (which went on to form the Democratic Union), preferring to merge Labor with a party that received less than two Knesset seats’ worth of votes in the April election. We will bring at least 15 seats, he promised, some of them from the right. But if that right didn’t vote for Gesher when it ran independently, why would it choose Levi-Abekasis after she joined hands with Peretz and Labor?

And indeed, the “huge wave” that he predicted never came about and the “walls” didn’t come tumbling down. In recent polls Labor-Gesher isn’t budging from six seats, exactly the number it achieved in the outgoing Knesset under Avi Gabbay.

When asked to explain on television on Sunday night why he shaved off his mustache, Peretz came up with a pretty pathetic reason: a request by “organizations for the deaf,” who complained that they couldn’t read his lips and understand what he was committing to doing. Funny, in 2006, when he garnered 19 seats for Labor, the deaf seemed to manage just fine.

As noted, one can understand where Peretz is coming from, and even feel a bit of empathy for his situation. But what the heck was Channel 12 News thinking? Not only did the country’s most-watched news program give in to a base PR trick by a politician in distress: It generated a wave of expectations with pushes and promos posted online about an “exceptional” item during which Peretz would make a “special announcement.”

So, anchorwoman Yonit, let’s put it this way: The declaration – true, made with a mustache up until now – is one that Peretz has been making daily, a few times a day, in every interview and speech ad nauseum. With “read my lips” or without, he didn’t say anything new. The announcement was as “special” and “extraordinary,” as the recurring reports about grandparents who’ve had enough of their grandchildren by the end of August. Shaving off his mustache is undoubtedly a cute summer gimmick but it’s worthy of late night TV, or in the event of a desperate lack of material, for Oded Ben-Ami’s program, where people always get treated favorably.

So what’s Channel 12 News’ next scoop? Levi-Abekasis stops tweezing her eyebrows? (Incidentally, in her previous incarnation as a model she appeared in a video in which she talked with men about removal of hair by laser.) Ehud Barak pasting his old mole back on his face while he dramatically declares that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer worthy of being prime minister?

This delusional and disgraceful evening, in terms of both the country's politics and its media, ended in an ironic tone that only Israel can provide during these tense days: Peretz’s city, Sderot, distracted viewers' attention from his gimmick when, shortly after the interview with him, the Color Red alarm sounded, scaring hundreds of those attending a local festival to death.