Israeli Labor Party Convention Demonstrates Deception of Highest Order

Nearly every delegate at the Tel Aviv conference is happy to declare their belief in the two-state solution, and to explain why it's not yet possible.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaking at his party's convention in Tel Aviv, February 7. 2016.
Moti Milrod

At its annual convention earlier this week, the Labor Party showed what it does better than anyone else: deceive itself to death. The former ruling party, which was in power long ago, faked a political discussion, a diplomatic plan, party unity, a leader and even a return to power in the near future (someone even promised 40 seats, no less). Everything seems like it could be true, but not really. Sometimes, it seems that the party is fully aware of this – perhaps even more so than others. But that doesn’t stop it from continuing to deceive itself as much as possible.

The cries of encouragement (“Bougie, Bougie”) were fake, just like his new diplomatic plan – the “separation” plan, the latest word from Labor. Only the speech by secretary-general Hilik Bar citing international support for another diplomatic plan – “The moment we present it, the entire world will stand behind us” – was more fake and ludicrous. And still, something palpable was in the air at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds: the smell of mold and camphor. It seems as though time has stood still in this party.

I have been following it for nearly 40 years, usually from the outside but for several years from the inside as well. And it seems there are some things that never change. Its convention, which was held last Sunday, reminded me of the olden days. Mind you, the hair of many members has turned gray, or thinned out, or been dyed, and potbellies have developed.

The old people of those days have disappeared, the young people have grown old and been joined by new members with exactly the same DNA – the DNA of the Labor Party, which an outsider won’t understand. The conference has remained as it ever was: mainly Ashkenazi (Jews of European origin), wheeler-dealers in essence, lacking any pomp or style. It’s more pleasant than Likud conferences, far less noisy and vulgar – yet it’s still a convention of wheeler-dealers.

Decades ago, this was the supreme body, which convened once every few years, usually with an impressive international roster of sister European parties, in Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium (as it was known then) or the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. Not much is left of that. Only that “Dear Yitzhak” – uttered during one memorable, dramatic conference by Shimon Peres addressing his friend Rabin – was replaced on Sunday by “Dear Isaac,” uttered by Eitan Cabel, who turned to Herzog in a speech that faked above-average excitement and unity – and prompted applause.

The warm-up speeches were heard all afternoon. One after another, dozens of anonymous party members came to the dais and, in the three minutes of fame allotted them, presented their diplomatic plans – nearly all of them identical. One says two states and another says two states, and all together they say: not now. One says peace and another says security, and all together they say: not now. One says Jewish and another says democratic, and all together they fail to understand that the two concepts massively contradict the other.

The tone was hawkish, security-oriented. One delegate called the late Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat a “murderer”; a second threatened the Palestinians with a “second Nakba,” no less; a third proudly mentioned that Labor had paved all the bypass roads to the settlements. Such a great honor. One proposed that Gaza be the Palestinian state; another proposed Qalandiyah for the Palestinians and Jerusalem for the Jews, forever and ever. One said there is no Palestinian partner, another said the Jordan Valley will remain ours forever; a third declaimed a demilitarized state.

This is a party without a single original idea, not a hint of ideological subversion, nothing we haven’t been hearing for years and years. Time, as we said, has stopped. There is no occupation that has lasted nearly 50 years – they are sticking to their guns. The only thing they aren’t saying here is territorial compromise, Jordanian option, Allon Plan – all their abominable schemes throughout the generations.

Only Yisrael Galili, “Mr. Settlement of the settlements party,” was missing in order to “reveal his opinion” to the conference representatives. They all disappeared years ago and nothing new has grown to replace them. All we have is talk of two states. And nearly all the speakers – from Herzog on down – agreed that this isn’t the time for them. When? Some other time. Not now. The Palestinians are requested to wait patiently. What’s the rush?

And meanwhile, separation. Herzog’s old-new plaything, which has a racist stench that it’s impossible to hide: They are there and we are here, as one of his predecessors in the job, Ehud Barak (who is not fondly remembered around this hall), described it so well. “I want to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as soon as possible,” Herzog wrote in a booklet distributed to those who attended. “They are there and we are here. We will build a big wall between us. That is the coexistence that is possible now.”

Herzog said the word “separation” about 20 times in his speech. Only separation will preserve security; only separation will preserve a Jewish Jerusalem; only separation will lead to a regional conference.

Herzog said he would bring his party back to the days of another Yitzhak – Rabin – and to David Ben-Gurion. He didn’t compare himself to them, God forbid. “We do not wish to rule over another people,” he said, perfectly mimicking the very words Shimon Peres said at this conference some 35 years ago. They have so little desire, the poor things, to rule over another people, and it’s only the cruel reality that has forced it upon them, the unfortunate victims. How typical of the Labor Party, how typically Israeli.

And the cherry on the top: The Israel Defense Forces won’t budge. In other words: the occupation will continue in full force, according to the Herzog plan. Did we mention a peace plan? Did we mention the left?

Still, there were some moments of excitement. At the convention’s peak, a shiny new acquisition entered the hall: say a big hello to Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn! He only joined the previous week, yet just a few days later he made quite the entrance, as they say, accompanied by a respectable retinue that attracted applause. The chairman promised that a former leader, Amir Peretz, would be returning to Labor the following day – and again applause, although more muffled this time. Even Ephraim Sneh, believe it or not, “who hasn’t been with us for a long time,” returned home to Labor. Ephraim returned after the adventures of Yisrael Hazaka, his forgotten party. You have to admit it, there’s electricity in the air: Come home, prodigal sons!

With or without Sneh, I hoped that one of the serving MKs might say something of note. So, this is what happened: Nachman Shai suggested instilling hope; Stav Shaffir suggested telling the truth; Zouheir Bahloul said there are “secrets” in the party.

And then came the turn of someone else with a diplomatic plan: Omer Bar-Lev, the party’s current “Mr. Security.”

“If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” he declared – an original opening, for sure. He soon demonstrated that Labor even knows how to overtake Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the right.

Opposition or not? “The time has come to stop Netanyahu’s policy of inclusion and to switch to a policy of initiative and attack,” he added. So, Bar-Lev is in favor of a ground operation in Gaza the very second the first Hamas attack tunnel is discovered. A diplomatic plan or not? Applause. He, of course, has a separation plan, like Herzog, but this time in four stages. And the main thing: Not a single soldier is moving anywhere. The occupation remains, as with Herzog.

A young skinhead tried to organize a chant of “Bougie, Bougie” when Cabel tried to breathe some life into the convention. “We need energy in this place! What’s happening to you?”

Cabel turned to his leader and requested that he finally put his cell phone away. Herzog quickly did so, as if reprimanded by teacher. And then Cabel began a leadership eulogy that wouldn’t shame a speaker in far-off Pyongyang. “Our job is to place the power in the hands of our leader, and Isaac is our leader” – words that actually caused Bougie to stand up and kiss Cabel on the cheek.

And then Herzog got up and said the two-state solution is not dead – but it won’t happen tomorrow.