Not One of Their Own

Three powerful roadside bombs, not including the right and Shimon Peres, are now standing in Amir Peretz's way to the prime ministership: the two strongest power groups in the country, and one evil spirit.

Three powerful roadside bombs, not including the right and Shimon Peres, are now standing in Amir Peretz's way to the prime ministership: the two strongest power groups in the country, and one evil spirit. Only if he can find the wherewithal to courageously dismantle them will Peretz be able to truly soar.

The first mine, of course, is the moneyed class. We need not say much about the power of this community and the clear-cut interest it has in preventing a person with Peretz's social views from becoming prime minister. Peretz is well-acquainted with this group. There is no fear he will change his spots regarding it, nor any need to advise him on how to deal with it.

The second mine is apparently less familiar to Peretz - the military and defense community, which is not used to taking orders from a civilian, a proletariat leader from Sderot. Peretz could be the first actual civilian in many years to become prime minister. Without a senior military rank or a past with an "aura of security," no pre-state underground activity and no commando force, not even a nuclear reactor, Peretz constitutes a threat to the gung-ho types, those in uniform and those who ostensibly removed them. His election might herald a revolution, the importance of which cannot be overstated.

After generations in which defense establishment graduates captured nearly every important position of power in the country, from prime minister down to school principals and military correspondents, Peretz from the Ordnance Corps could never be one of their own. They will do everything in their power to block his way and especially to mutilate his image, belittle and make it appear ridiculous.

The opening shot came from Danny Yatom, who insinuated that anyone who hasn't heard real bullets whistling past his ear is unfit to lead a country where whistling bullets are the norm. From now on, there will be more and more condescending remarks about Peretz's "inexperience" and "lack of understanding." A civilian-leader, who will view reality not through the sights of a cannon, who will see in the Palestinians human beings rather than "wanted for interrogation," who will realize that military strength cannot be the solution to everything and that poverty and the social gaps are as much a threat to security as Islamic Jihad, is perhaps the most vital commodity now. The gung-ho types, who dictate such a large part of our lives in the "Shin Bet state" that has grown here, could stand to lose much of their power in his regime.

Peretz has to contend bravely and bluntly with the efforts to delegitimize him: not to panic, not to be overtaken by a sense of inferiority, not to surround himself with a host of generals in order to gain their liking (Ami Ayalon is already on hand) and not to succumb to their dictates - just as he did in the face of those holding the purse strings. A union leader from Sderot is not a jot lesser than a commander on the General Staff. His inexperience is his great advantage, because the experience of the gung-ho types brought us to the brink of disaster. The war on terror is too important a matter to be left solely in the hands of generals; striving for peace must certainly not be placed in their care. If Peretz really wants to bring about change, he must proclaim with courage and determination: The rules of the game will change. The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet will no longer be the ones to decide whether a cargo crossing will be opened, whether a settlement will be established, where roads will be built in the territories, and how much money will be allocated for the basket of health products and services. Those with the security outlook will no longer have a veto on every political move. This change will not be easy, but Peretz must understand that without it he will not be able to change a thing.

Deep in the ground lies the third mine, which is the most complicated when it comes to dismantling options. Peretz is Mizrahi, a Jew of Middle Eastern origin - a Moroccan no less - nearly the bottom of the social ladder. The capacity of Israeli society to accept a prime minister of these origins remains to be seen. The ethnic demon, even if it is contained in a bottle, still resides deep within the hearts of many. It's not talked about directly, because of political correctness, but gets wrapped in all sorts of self-righteous garbs. When Yosef Lapid speaks of the need to represent "the middle classes" and the bourgeoisie, he seems to be referring precisely to that. It seems that in the eyes of quite a few Israelis of Ashkenazi origin, a Mizrahi can perhaps be president and defense minister, chief of staff and police commissioner, but not be at the very top of the pyramid. When there's talk of how "qualified" Peretz is, it's there, in the depths of consciousness. You can't prove it, but it can't be ignored.

In this, too, Peretz is called upon to display a great deal of courage and integrity: not to put the demon back in the bottle, but on the contrary, to expose it to the light of day. The time has come to challenge hidden racism in Israel and out it from the closet. If he succeeds in making it clear to the wealthy that they must beware the poor; to the gung-ho types, that from now on a voice other than theirs will be heard; and also to remove the ethnic demon from the bottle and destroy it - it will yet transpire that Peretz's election augurs more than expected. But, ultimately, this test is not just his: It is for all of us.