Either Left or Nothing

Peretz and Gabbay have already passed through the meat grinder called the Labor Party and have become part of its flawed DNA, which is the DNA of everything that is termed left-center

Amir Peretz, former defense minister and Labor party chairman now vying for the party's leadership. July 2017
Ofer Vaknin

Amir Peretz stammered. He squirmed and carefully picked his words. This happened a month ago on the podium of the Haaretz Peace Conference. Investigative journalist Raviv Drucker asked him if he still supported the release of imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, as he had in the past, and Peretz stammered. “Maybe,” “not now” and “when conditions are ripe.” I was very saddened.

Here was the man who was brave enough to say Peace Now in the beleaguered border town of Sderot in the 1980s, now bereft of any courage. Here was the man I had believed in with all my heart, struggling to find words. One may still believe that even today he understands that Barghouti must be released and that nothing has changed since he supported his release. But Pertez is now campaigning for the leadership of the Labor Party, believing it’s not in his interest to annoy anyone. Just wait until he’s elected.

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"Just wait until he’s elected" is what they always say in that party. Wait until Shimon Peres is elected, wait until Fuad (Benjamin Ben-Eliezer) is elected, until Shelly (Yacimovich) wins, until Bougie (Isaac Herzog) is leader – just give them the chance and see how bold they are. And then they become leaders of their party and nothing changes. This time, this scenario must not happen again. It’s time for Labor to be a left-wing party, even a proud one. In any case it has no chance with right-wing voters. So far there are no signs of this happening.

Nothing of significance was said during the vacuous campaign that will wind down tomorrow, other than a discussion of identities, extolling the fact that “we have two Mizrahi Jews” (those who hail from Middle Eastern countries). Avi Gabbay declaimed two states, even expressing willingness to concede the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shoafat – what courage – while Peretz, the true leftist and man of peace among the two, talked about settlement blocs. These are deceptions.

The primaries of a social-democrat opposition party were conducted without one principled word about the crimes of this government, about electricity supplies to Gaza, executions at checkpoints, the human rights group Breaking the Silence, the repeated political detention of Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian member of parliament. How dare they ask for the trust of party members without referring to these topics? Does anyone know what they really think about these issues? Is the Peretz of 2017, the courageous dove and the leader of the Second Lebanon War and its crimes, more a man of peace than Gabbay is? Maybe the opposite is true? Does anyone care? Is it too much to expect the candidates to utter some clear words, such as promising to fight for the renewal of electricity to Gaza?

They should tell the truth: The occupation is not temporary and was never intended to be such; that building settlements was and is a crime; that administrative detainees should be released; that negotiations should be held with Hamas and not just over the return of bodies. It’s all wishful thinking.

Peretz and Gabbay have already passed through the meat grinder called the Labor Party and have become part of its flawed DNA, which is the DNA of everything that is termed left-center in Israel. Its guiding principle is: Say nothing. The right talks (and acts) and the left stammers. Things are blurred and smoothed over, words are spoken, sycophantically trying to pander to the public, with the resulting defeat at the polls. There is an abundance of weathervanes in Israel. For sucking up to the public we have Yesh Atid, for pleasing everyone we have Kulanu. Gabbay and Peretz will never be as good at obsequiousness as Yair Lapid is or have a smile as charming as Moshe Kahlon’s, so why bother?

It’s been said ad nauseam: The only raison d’etre the Labor Party has is to be an alternative. Its role is to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. To offer something no one else is offering. It isn’t doing so and is thereby sealing not only its own fate but also the chances for achieving any change in Israel.

Labor is the curse of the left, the blockage in the sewer pipe, without the removal of which there will be no true left wing here. The party kept thinking that the path to government lies in fawning over the right wing, causing it to fail again and again. Yacimovich said the occupation was unimportant and lost. Herzog offered baseless peace proposals and lost.

Now, Peretz and Gabbay must not fall into that trap of cowards. In the face of right-wing populism they must be a bold left wing or not be at all. Even from an electoral standpoint this is the only possibility that stands a chance. The person who is elected leader on Monday has a razor-sharp choice: either left or nothing.