Labor, Meretz, Come Down to Earth

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Labor Chairman Amir Peretz at a party conference on December 25, 2019.
Labor Chairman Amir Peretz at a party conference on December 25, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

The Labor Party is busy fighting over the reserved slots at the top of the Knesset list that chairman Amir Peretz will be able to fill with people of his choice. Meanwhile, Meretz and MK Stav Shaffir are heading for a collision over the latter’s position on the Democratic Union joint ticket. All these spats could be compared to someone hospitalized in the intensive care unit who, as his bed is beeping alarms, is arguing over the phone about his seat on the flight for his next Pesach vacation.

One example of the depth of this disconnect is Thursday’s tweet by MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, Peretz’s partner in the leadership of the Labor-Gesher joint ticket. “During the formation of the next government, Labor-Gesher will demand the Finance Ministry,” she said.

The failures by both Meretz and Labor are a feedback loop that goes back and forth between them and their voters. They aren’t able to bring in powerful acquisitions because of their weakness, and therefore, the public continues to abandon them, or at least to drag them to the brink of falling below the electoral threshold. In both parties, but perhaps especially in Labor, these internal wars – which aren’t related to any substantive or ideological issue – have destroyed any potential for new grass to grow.

The story of Yair Golan exemplifies this. Golan’s natural home should have been Labor rather than a bizarre framework like Democratic Union. But after taking off his army uniform, he looked at what was happening in the party and got vertigo. And before him came many other good people over the years, from Yair Lapid to Moshe Ya’alon.

In fact, Labor is now being abandoned by anyone capable of looking ahead. Former party leader Shelly Yacimovich left. Stav Shaffir tried to do so, but got into trouble in her new party as well. And it’s not inconceivable that other senior Labor members who have other options will cash them in as well.

But in contrast to Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz, who seems to more or less understand that he’s in a disaster area, the confidence displayed by Peretz and Levi-Abekasis appears to be based on a false view of reality. Where do they think they live, those two?

Anyone with eyes in his head understands that Peretz is determined not to unite with Meretz. His arrogance isn’t baseless; forging a Mizrahi left is a legitimate and even romantic project. It has historical justice and would create an opportunity to change and renew the face of the left, as well as to find a remedy for Israeli society’s most painful wound – ethnic and cultural discord.

Many moderate Mizrahi voters who loathe the right’s metastasizing anti-Arab racism are nevertheless put off by Meretz’s electorate, viewing its voters as arrogant people afflicted with a racist blindness of which they are in denial. Nor is this always wrong, even if generalizations are usually unfair.

The problem is that a party of this sort – an anti-racism coalition that isn’t alienated from either Mizrahi identity or the traditional Judaism that is currently scorned in liberal-leftist circles – can be built only over the course of years, if at all. Not when Israel is being dragged into another election every few months and held captive by an indicted prime minister who has refused to leave his post and is waging all-out war against state institutions.

As of today, such a party may have strong support in the op-ed pages and social media, historic justification and a story full of passion, but the problem is that it doesn’t have voters. The people who save Labor time after time are its ostensibly privileged loyalists. And with Kahol Lavan having consolidated its position and successfully passed the test of those who hate Benjamin Netanyahu, such voters are likely to be less pained at the prospect of voting for that party rather than Labor.

Perhaps Peretz’s gamble will pay off, and running independently will indeed increase the combined total of Labor and Meretz’s Knesset seats, because it will avoid turning off specific types of voters, whether it’s those who favor Labor-Gesher or those who favor Meretz. Nevertheless, it’s too wild and dangerous a gamble at this time. The risk of 150,000 left-wing votes being thrown into the trash and Netanyahu being crowned for another four years, during which he will legislate his own immunity from prosecution and a law to let the Knesset override the Supreme Court, is greater than the gain of getting the sixth candidate on the Labor-Gesher slate into the Knesset.

Meretz is even more vulnerable in the polls and is liable to pay the price. That’s why Peretz has allowed himself to stand on the sidelines and insist on realizing his dream. And therefore, he is the one who must pay the price for this reckless gamble.

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