Likable, but Not Revolutionaries

Pines-Paz and Herzog have brought a fresh spirit to the moldy corridors of their party, but they have not achieved a revolution in the Labor leadership. It is not from the two of them that the salvation will come to rehabilitate the Labor Party.

A French folk proverb says that "40 is old age in the eyes of the young and 50 is young in the eyes of the elderly." The two darlings that won first and second place in the vote for the distribution of portfolios in the Labor Party, the one 42 and the other 44, plummeted smack dab into the middle of the French proverb.

Old in the eyes of the youngsters and young in the eyes of the oldsters. Too young to contend for the chairmanship of the party now and too young to wait until the 60- and 80-year-olds in the Labor Party open the way to them to contend for the position of prime minister.

MKs Ophir Pines and Yitzhak Herzog have breathed a fresh spirit into the party by the very fact of their election to first and second place respectively against all the honchos, who were too busy with their internecine warfare to be afraid of them. But the bitter experience of former politicos Avraham Burg (b. 1955) and Uzi Baram (b. 1937), who each won first place in party primaries, teaches that in the realms of the patriarchs such successes are liable to be political death sentences.

This is even truer if the tribal elders, the heads of the two largest parties, decide between themselves to hold the next elections as scheduled in 2006. Behind them in line stand Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and former prime minister Ehud Barak (Labor), the men of the iron balls, as it used to be said of Bismarck. The latter will be 63 and the former will be 58 in 2006.

Believe it or not, when David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the state he was 62, and they called him "the Old Man." At 47 he was already the chairman of the Jewish Agency, de facto the prime minister of the incipient state. He came to this position following the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, who was 34. Yes, "the oldsters of Mapai" (forerunner of today's Labor Party) were 50 to 60 years old. The Mapai youngsters, Shimon Peres (now MK, chairman of the Labor Party), and Moshe Dayan (1915-1981), Giora Josephtal (1912-1962) and Abba Eban (1915-2002) were 30 to 40.

Herzog and Pines radiate youth, and each of them has chosen a portfolio to his liking, without knowing how long this government will hold out and whether they have a trajectory beyond the Peres era. We are living in a world of young leaders. Richard Nixon was elected vice president of the United States when he was 32. When he was as old as Herzog and Pines, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, Bill Clinton was on his way to becoming president, and Tony Blair was residing at 10 Downing Street, and there were prime ministers younger than him in the Czech Republic and in Holland.

Talented and successful young people here in Israel, high tech geniuses, university professors, and business people avoid party political activity at all costs, while young people who have entered party politics encounter barriers thrown up by aged leaders, who castrate anyone who threatens their status.

Shmuel Tamir's attempt to displace Menachem Begin (1913-1992) in a court revolt ended with the expulsion of Tamir (1923-1987) from the Herut-Liberal Bloc (main precursor of today's Likud). The revolt by the National Religious Party youngsters, Zevulon Hammer (1936-1998) and Hanan Porat (b. 1943), broke the heart of the veteran leader Dr. Yosef Burg (1909-1999) and broke the party. They transformed it from a moderate party into an extreme right-wing party, and its 12 seats in the Knesset shrank to half of that today.

The real political revolution was the takeover by two non-professional politicos, Barak and Netanyahu, of the two major parties. This was an experiment in which each of them in turn failed and screwed the country, each in his own way. And now they are preparing for the next race, on condition that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (b. 1928) and labor party Chairman MK Shimon Peres (b. 1923) do not decide to prolong their tenure until 2010.

Herzog and Pines won by a method that has three characteristics: Either you are a media favorite, or you have no enemies at home, or you do not constitute a threat to politicos who are eying the position of party chairman. It is these three elements that gave them their achievement. But the arena of the vote was the narrow issue of the distribution of government portfolios and not the primaries for prime minister. In the upper battlefield they don't give any discounts. The success of the two derived from the fact that they have been active in the political system for several years without high aspirations.

Whereas in the Likud there are many young faces and politicos who grow with the job (Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, for example, or Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, both of whom were born in 1958), the two darlings have brought a fresh spirit to the moldy corridors of their party, but they have not achieved a revolution in the Labor leadership. It is not from the two of them that the salvation will come to rehabilitate the Labor Party.