Much Ado About the Deceased

There is a great commotion in town: The Labor Party is choosing its chairman. Important columnists wrote for and against. Yoel Marcus and Yosef Harif have called on readers to vote for Peres; Avirama Golan is for Peretz and Avraham Tal is against; Yitzhak Laor is anti-Barak and Dan Margalit is in favor of postponing the elections. Even the writer of these lines once committed the sin of expressing support for one of the candidates, when it still seemed like it perhaps mattered.

It is indeed an irrelevant and pointless discussion that assumed a central place in the public discourse as if it were a significant event. It is a vestige of past days, when it was still important to know who would be the one to lead the dominant political party in the country. Through inertia, this discourse continues despite the fact that the organization has petered out long ago. The Labor Party primaries are attracting attention as if Labor were an important and alternative party just one step away from returning to power, and as if the battle between the party's leadership candidates were an ideological struggle between worldviews. But nothing of the sort is happening. The elections for the Labor Party leadership are no different than the elections to choose the head of the chambers of commerce association or the secretary general of the taxi drivers' union: They have no public importance beyond the organization's members.

There is no significance to the question of who will lead this living-dead party. It is very difficult to point toward differences between the three generals, the leader of the past and the union activist, especially in the field of statecraft. Even if there are certain differences, they would only be erased by a party indistinguishable from its senior partner in the government. Instead of wasting energy on primaries, whose scope of corruption is now becoming evident, the leader could have been selected alphabetically, based on the candidates' surnames. Whether it is Matan Vilnai or Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Shimon Peres or Amir Peretz, or even the hated Ehud Barak, this will have zero impact on our daily lives. The occupation will continue, the social gap will widen, racism will escalate, and the Labor Party will have nothing to say on its own. It members will continue to participate in the government, in any government. They will be both for and against the occupation, in favor of both improving the lives of the Palestinians and tightening the grip on them, for and against settlements, for and against the economic plan, any economic plan, and their election victory will continue to fade into the distant horizon.

Instead of appointing a judge to investigate the corruption in the primaries, a judge should have been appointed to declare the party bankrupt. The real corruption of the Labor Party is not in the forgery of the membership forms collected by candidates, but rather in the party's political behavior in recent years, in destroying public norms, in failing to place itself as an alternative to Sharon and the Likud. The Labor Party is betraying its role: The fact that it left the opposition for a handful of seats and that it is unable to offer a leadership capable of signifying any hope - this is the corruption for which it must provide a reckoning. Why should someone join the Labor Party? Have you met anyone in recent years who believes in its path? Who knows what this path is? Who believes in Vilnai's path? The path of Ben-Eliezer? Who knows where they want to lead us?

It was not always like this. In the past, there were at least a few bits of ideas tossed into the air during competitions within this quarrelsome party and against its rivals from the right. The Likud was in favor of "Greater Israel." Peres advocated a "functional compromise," Yigal Allon was a proponent of "territorial compromise," and both were in favor of the "Jordanian option" - even if no one knew exactly what these ideas meant. The Kibbutz Movement backed Rabin the "hawk" while the Moshav Movement supported Peres the "dove." In impoverished neighborhoods and development towns, people voted Likud because of the deprivation. The kibbutzim voted Labor because of socialism. Slogans were floated in the air that at least had the fragrance of some sort of ideology. Now there is not even an attempt to retain any semblance of this. No one speaks about ideology or morality. No hint of any idea or faint echo of an original, subversive or creative thought has been sounded in these primaries. Someone happening to walk into the gatherings in this campaign would find it difficult to ascertain to which party the speakers belong, and certainly would not be able to distinguish the political views of one candidate from another: All of them support the disengagement and the separation fence; all of them are against terror and none of them propose anything.

True, the Labor Party's obituary has been written countless times. Peres has heard the party mourned thousands of times in his day and he detests these laments. How many times can one eulogize the dead? But the fabricated hubbub of the primaries compels us to remember several basic truths. The Labor Party has no chance of returning to power anytime soon, regardless of who leads it. It offers no alternative in any area. It is stale and corrupt. Its greatest contribution would be to dismantle itself and get out of our lives. Only then might a real alternative develop that could generate some kind of hope.