Opinion |

Labor Isn’t Dead

It’s still the party that supports a diplomatic solution based on partition, the defense of liberal democracy and a change in the economic and social realities that weigh on so many people

Uzi Baram
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Labor members celebrating in Tel Aviv the evening after their party's primary, February 11, 2019.
Labor members celebrating in Tel Aviv the evening after their party's primary, February 11, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod
Uzi Baram

Avraham Burg believes the Labor Party has reached the end of the road and “should be helped to die,” as he wrote in Haaretz this week.

He says there’s no point in extending its life artificially as the party fights for scraps of Knesset seats, makes a mockery of itself and averts any chances of renewal. He says a new generation of “angry creative agenda-driven young people” should be allowed to arise and establish a new Jewish-Arab left that can fight for changing Israel’s reality.

For years Burg has been unsuccessfully attempting this via op-ed pieces and meetings he holds to seek out those fervent young people. Ostensibly their consciences don’t permit them to support any of the existing alternatives; instead they would establish a secular priestly class.

Actually the Labor Party still has a role to play. True, its aspirations to return to power seem nonexistent as reality pummels the party on every side.

First there’s the consistent trending of public opinion to the right – regarding a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians and an ever increasing willingness to fray the boundaries of Israeli democracy. Then there’s the appearance of fair-eyed messiahs with strong hopes of toppling Likud from power. Many people are turning to this option and weakening Labor.

Burg seems unbothered by the fact that any party established to vie for power must include former Likudniks Moshe Ya’alon and Zvi Hauser.  According to his theory, Labor voters should have turned their backs on their party and linked up with one that has a new message, one that’s not yet clear and probably never will be.

But the real battle conditions, not the utopian version, is that the alternative is a hard right that takes a heavy hand against democratic values. It faces a new right headed by Benny Gantz that may be able to take a bite out of that hard right.

Facing these parties is Labor. With all its weaknesses it has proved in its primary that it is still alive and kicking. It’s the party that supports a diplomatic solution based on partition, the defense of liberal democracy and a change in the economic and social realities that weigh on so many people.

And though it’s the party known as “elitist, white and male,” it has chosen three Mizrahi politicians to head its ticket, two of whom are of Moroccan origin, plus four women in the top 10 slots. This is testimony to its aspiration to achieve real equality. It turns out that the party’s elders have chosen a young slate of politicians hungry and ready to fight.

In comparison to 1990, their positions aren’t a big deal, but compared to the dark reality that has pushed away any thought of a peace settlement and turned its back on the values of equality that were always uniquely ours, they’re almost revolutionary.

The awakening of voters to participate in the primary is to the credit of Labor’s chairman, Avi Gabbay, but it doesn’t absolve him of responsibility for the fact that under his leadership no worthy partnerships have been found to bolster the party. The public has thus far voted no confidence in his claim to be an alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Alongside its advantages, the new Labor team also has some disadvantages. Its representation regarding social issues is great, but the team lacks prominent people with a defense background. Amir Peretz is the only one with any government experience. The exciting, young slate isn’t balanced enough, and Gabbay can insert someone with a significant security record in the second slot.

On the other hand, the public has given Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli the job of recruiting younger members to the party. They must be the ones to head an intergenerational shift.

I saw the Labor Party in times of greatness. But today it has to accept a more modest vision of itself. It has to sharpen its messages and try to win over not only its own members but anyone seeking a credible, established party and a movement focusing on the future without looking back.

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