Israel's Labor Party Has a Chance to Prove Itself

It's no accident that Peretz is the last remaining survivor of Labor's 'group of eight,' the rest scattered to the winds, and proving him to be the most committed, persistent and serious of them all.

The 60,000 or so Labor Party members who will vote in tomorrow's primary have the power to change the Israeli political map. The 60,000 or so Labor Party members will prove tomorrow whether the summer of protest turns out to be just another summer, or one of real change.

The electors face four possibilities. Three will sentence their party and Israeli politics to an extension of the status quo. Only one choice has the ability to bring in changes. The electors face four candidates, only one of whom is the genuine article, the real left and not false substitutes. They can vote for Shelly Yachimovich - a vote for a corrupt left with a nationalistic worldview, the kind that stops at the Green Line and overtly, willfully, averts its gaze from the abuses happening on the other side. They can vote for Isaac Herzog, the candidate who hid behind the skirts of the Netanyahu government until Ehud Barak unceremoniously ejected him. They can vote for the likable Amram Mitzna, who has little to say for himself apart from his singular master performance as mayor of Yeruham. Or they can vote for Amir Peretz.

By all rights, Peretz should have been the poster boy of the summer of 2011, the venerated leader of the social protest movement. If Shelly Yachimovich was once his political daughter, his protegee, then Daphni Leef is his ideological granddaughter. What the crowds loudly demanded during this long, hot summer was what Peretz has been saying for years. If the people are now demanding social justice, Peretz has demanded it for years, often as a lone voice in the wilderness. The terminology, the perspective and the passion that characterized Israel this summer were what marked many summers for Peretz as he traveled along his bumpy political road, crossing mine fields, occasionally losing his way and more often falling victim, before finding his sturdy legs once again. Peretz is not the new kid in town; he's been there for years, ever since his days as mayor of Sderot. He never left the city, and that too is a point in his honor that should be remembered now.

But Peretz is remembered only for his mistakes. An unnecessary war that failed on account of an army that was not properly prepared for it - long before he was appointed minister of defense. Yet the blame is directed at him alone. His successor, Ehud Barak, was not to blame for Operation Cast Lead, but Peretz alone was to blame for the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War. So why not call a spade a spade. Let the genie out of the bottle: it's called ethnic discrimination. Peretz was given the historic opportunity to serve as defense minister and to shatter two myths: that a Moroccan Jew cannot serve in this position and that someone who was never a general cannot succeed in it. Peretz failed in the very act of going into Lebanon, but someone of his ethnicity is not permitted to fail even once in Israel. A Moroccan Jew will not be forgiven for a single needless war, not even for a single incident of failing to remove the lens cap from his binoculars. Others are forgiven for the same things.

Peretz is the last remaining survivor of Labor's promising "group of eight." The rest were scattered to the winds, and it's no accident that he alone was not. He turned out to be the most committed, the most persistent and therefore also the most serious of them all. He is also one of the most honest and modest Israeli politicians. Unsullied by suspicion, never rubbing shoulders with the rich and never closing his eyes to the occupation. No one gives him proper credit for this. He supported Peace Now from the beginning, from nationalistic Sderot, during times when this took great courage, and unlike Yachimovich he never abandoned his commitment to the fight against the occupation. Even now, when everyone is talking about social justice, Peretz talks of its indivisible connection to the injustice of the settlement enterprise. But Peretz isn't "one of us," he never was and presumably never will be. As a result he has always been doomed to ostracism and sniggering and definitely not to total and genuine acceptance.

On the face of it, this is a yawn-inducing primary for a moribund party that is a candidate for resurrection of the dead. In reality, it is a crucial election. Peretz is deserving and suitable. Peretz is the genuine voice of social change. Sixty thousand electors will prove on Monday where the party is headed: to another empty coalition with the right, or to a genuine coalition with what took place (or not ) in Israel this summer.