'New' Labor Must Realize Peace and Prosperity Go Together

If Shelly Yachimovich is campaigning for the party's top spot, she cannot remain in the balcony when the Mideast is in ferment and the peace process floundering.

Just when it appeared as if the neoliberal right had begun to realize that economic prosperity is not a substitute for a withering peace process, members of the so-called social democrat camp are proposing that the socioeconomic cart be put before the security-foreign policy horse. In enormous Labor Party advertisements in yesterday's newspapers, the term "peace camp" made way for "national act." Even Meretz has lowered its peace flag to half-mast, in favor of fighting for the rights of the underprivileged.

In an interview with Israel Radio after she announced her candidacy for Labor Party head, MK Shelly Yachimovich recalled with pride that "at the end of the day, Labor established the settlements," for which she was rewarded with a warm embrace by former Jewish underground member Hagai Segal in his weekly column in Friday's Yedioth Ahronoth.

Shelly Yachimovich
Tess Scheflan

Yachimovich, who frequently allies with right-wingers in order to further social-welfare issues, issued a decree of divorce to "leftist parties like Meretz," sending them off "to gather their supporters from among their authentic audience" and to let Labor "be what it should be, a centrist, Zionist, social-democratic party."

Centrist? Granted, Israelis always like a good seat in the middle, but the centrist balcony is already standing-room-only. During its extended stay in the coalition, alongside Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, Yachimovich and her Labor Party colleagues gave Likud a ticket to that coveted balcony. Most of the empty seats were taken by Kadima, which cemented its position as an alternative to the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government from the back benches of the opposition.

Zionist? It is very important to make sure that the supermarket cashiers in the settlement of Ariel can sit during their shifts. But in order to guarantee that Israel will still be a Jewish and democratic state 20 years from now, an arrangement must be reached with our neighbors to enable transferring Ariel's cashiers and the rest of the residents of isolated settlements to sovereign Israeli territory.

Yachimovich is right: It is easier to say "two states for two peoples" than to protect employment agency workers. But it is easier to protect workers than it is to protect Palestinian children evicted from their East Jerusalem homes. Labor could learn a lesson in Zionism from Ossim Shalom - Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare, an organization of Jewish and Arab social workers whose members demonstrate in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah every Friday.

Social-democratic? Indeed, the fight against the occupation distracts the peace camp's attention from their own poor. The attention paid to Palestinian suffering, violence and the peace process's failure has pushed the underprivileged (and the privileged ) away from the leftist parties. The recipe for bringing them "home" is not to sever the socioeconomic situation from the peace process. It is hard to believe that a smart politician like Yachimovich does not understand the connection between peace and the welfare state, and between racist legislation and Israel's international status.

When European consumers avoid buying Israeli products because of Israel's refusal to suspend construction in the settlements, Israeli industrialists have a good excuse to suspend raises for their workers. When the United Nations recognizes a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and young people in Nablus and in East Jerusalem rise up against the occupation, Israel's military budget, not its welfare budget, will be increased. When the next intifada chases away tourists and investors it is the middle class, the voters that Labor is wooing, who will pay most of the price. As always.

Before announcing her candidacy for the post of Labor chairwoman, Yachimovich argued in an opinion piece in Haaretz ("Not a good woman," January 27, 2011 ), "Before we set out to make peace, there has to be a state." There is room in Israeli politics for niche parties and for MKs who devote their energies to righting economic and social wrongs, and who leave it to their colleagues to pick up the slack in security and foreign policy. But a politician who is campaigning for the top spot in a (still? ) important party cannot remain in the balcony at a time when the Middle East is in ferment and the peace process is floundering. Such a stance has nothing to do with socialism and less than nothing to do with democracy.