Amir Peretz: This Is Your Last Chance – Take It

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Labor's Amir Peretz at a Labor Party conference, November 25, 2019.

Thursday is the last day before the close of the party lists for the next Knesset election, and the last chance for the Labor Party to give up on its dream of attracting swing voters from the right, who have disappointed many of the party’s previous chairmen. The odds are slim, yet I call on Amir Peretz: This is your last chance – take it.

I know from up close the backseat drivers, the kibitzers yelling from the sidelines without knowing the polls or the street. I am familiar with those who speak of “the burden of responsibility” without ever having felt it on their shoulders. I do not envy Peretz for the choice before him. It isn’t easy. Still, he mustn’t miss this opportunity.

The leftist organization Mehazkim published a short parable that Peretz told: A man goes to the Interior Ministry to change his name from Buzaglo to Federman. Weeks later, he returns to change it to Friedman. “Have you gone nuts?” he was asked. “Just two weeks ago you changed it to Federman.” He responded, “Everywhere I go they ask me my previous name.”

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“I suggest you don’t cover up your family name,” Peretz said. “It won’t help you. We are the leftist camp characterized by values. We must sharpen them, we must speak about them, and then, even if we don’t win, at least we will feel that we will keep this voice alive, thriving and combative.”

The Labor Party has spent years ingratiating itself to the right, failing time after time. Labor was kept alive artificially by seats that came from Meretz, all in hope of defeating Benjamin Netanyahu. The result was one party that shrunk and another party afraid to fight for its values. Don’t fall into this trap, Peretz. The risk is too great this time.

I am familiar with the criticism about Ehud Barak. I have written much of it, but Barak is one of the sharpest opposition voices around today, at a time when a man with three pending indictments is running to lead the government, with a contemptuous union of nationalist Haredim and Kahanists to his right, posing a clear and present danger to democracy.

I supported the union on the left because it prevented critical votes on the left from disappearing beneath the electoral threshold, but mainly because there is a chance here to see a large leftist party that doesn’t fear its own shadow. Peretz can be part of that.

And if you, Mr. Peretz, decide in the end to run separately – go all the way. Fight for every vote on the right. Make a campaign based on social welfare issues like only you can do. Give it a chance. But please, drop the attacks on your leftist colleagues in an attempt to pick up another half a seat. You are bigger than that. The stakes are too high to get lost in old grudges and cannibalizing votes.

I was the CEO of B’Tselem in 1989, during the first intifada. I invited Labor’s “Octet” to come with me to northern Samaria. Peretz was the first to accept. We ran into a gunfight between Palestinian factions in one of the refugee camps, and I don’t know how we got out of there alive. Peretz was ready then to risk his life to see what was happening in the territories. Politicians today are too afraid to even risk voicing criticism.

Peretz, I hope you will take advantage of this last day to build a true left that isn’t afraid of its shadow. Even if you don’t win, at least we will feel that we have kept this voice alive, thriving and combative.

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