Opinion

How to Unify the Left and Save Israel

Ehud Barak and Amir Peretz back in 2008 when both were Labor Party leaders.
Limor Edrey

Shortly after the Labor Party’s leadership primary, I feel I have to apologize to everyone who decided that I should move aside a bit. Really, what was I thinking, "a girl" who dares express herself in a clear voice on a playing field reserved for journalists and politicians who jealously guard the scepter for one another.

On July 5, shortly after the primary, Haaretz’s Yossi Verter was right when he noted that Israel has one of the few political systems in the world that continues to elect veteran politicians, not young leaders. But one distinction eluded him: Israeli politics and its pundits are also among the only ones in the West that in 2019 still belittle and ridicule women.

Women don’t battle, they “quarrel,” they aren’t assertive, they’re “shrill.” I’ve often heard that my main political problem is that “you have opinions.” Only journalists like Verter still think it’s legitimate to call a 34-year-old Knesset member (the age at which Yitzhak Rabin headed the army’s Northern Command) “a girl” and a “Pokemon battle.” (And excuse me, winner of the Sokolow Prize for journalism, for having to Google a new concept.) And all this disapproval has come when, under the current leaders supported by such critics, Israel and its democracy have reached the edge of the abyss.

Thousands of Labor Party members voted for me despite the tricks and the blatant and covert misogyny, because they thought that I was worthy of leading the party. Not because I’m a woman, but because they knew I’d fight for them and wouldn’t be deterred by the members of the club who are afraid of a change to the old order.

They knew I didn’t suffice with talk about increasing the health budget – I revealed the numbers, the method, the injustices and the deals that the government makes with the people’s money, and then I fought and overhauled the system. After all, I don’t work for the Histadrut labor federation or the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund. Unlike many people in politics, I work for the public and Israel’s future. Our voters are tired of the masquerading, of the apologetic and toadying language. They want our camp to behave courageously and stop being afraid.

The upcoming election will decide the future of Israeli democracy. The political gossip, which is preoccupied with the candidates’ internal disputes in the election campaign, doesn’t interest Israelis. They want to know if we’ll be able to save the country and prevent it from becoming a corrupt state based on religious law that controls 3 million Palestinians and becomes a nightmare of terror and apartheid. Will Israel be a country that offers hope for its young people or a country where they’ll seek the fastest way to obtain a foreign passport?

All people who understand that this is a choice between conservatives and Kahanists on the one hand and democrats and liberals on the other also understand that they must mobilize for the battle. A messianic and extremist group on the right has taken over politics not by flattery but by steadily accumulating power with the goal of winning the battle.

This isn’t a group that’s willing to make compromises. What would we compromise over – half a democracy? Half a rule of law? Or maybe decades when our children would continue protecting illegal outposts deep inside the Palestinian territories instead of guarding proper borders as in a normal country?

In the current political situation one side is fighting with all its might and trying to trample the opinions, aspirations and dreams of its rival, and the other side, ours, is still trying to decide whether to go out to battle and what to wear. This election – despite the summer heat that plays tricks on us – is an election for the heart of our country.

It’s an election that will determine whether Israel will be democratic, Jewish, Zionist, open and free – or not. And the most pragmatic thing that we must do now is to stand up and fight.

There is much discussion about the role of the Labor Party, but it’s not the pundits who will decide on this issue, it’s the party leadership. This party has made mistakes in recent years but also fought for Israelis more than any rival and in the past led the country in its most crucial moments. It must decide that now too it will steer the ship – and win. The first step: to unite the camp. During the second stage, after the election: to revive the Labor movement and turn it into a ruling party once again.

That will happen when Labor isn’t just a party of politicians but a popular, ideological party that rebuilds its territory. A party that resumes its activity in neighborhoods and in unionizing, builds defense and economic research institutes, fosters ties with youth movements, prepares the next generation, brings young Arab men and women from high-tech, medicine and education into politics, and recruits ultra-Orthodox leaders who will revolutionize their communities. A party that instead of constantly whining that the public has turned to the right gets up and convinces the public to follow its path.

Anyone who is ready to fight for democracy, peace and a country that accepts responsibility for its citizens should join us. We must create a strong tie between Labor, Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel to build a strong Israeli left. The leaders of the camp must meet without preconditions and with a clear decision – we’re running together.

Of course, as a member of the Labor Party, I’d like Labor to head the camp, but the question of leadership depends on one test only: how to enlarge the bloc. Outside support must be added to this ensemble in the guise of young Arab leaders and ultra-Orthodox leaders, and Tzipi Livni should be invited to return.

Such a demonstration of responsibility would restore hope to many people on our side, and that’s how change begins – when we start to believe that we can be the ones to determine the country’s future.

Stav Shaffir is a legislator for the Labor Party.

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Clarification

Contrary to the claim made by MK Stav Shaffir in this article, Yossi Verter did not refer to her as "a girl."