Let Israel's Labor Party Join the Government and Bear Its Shame

Wouldn’t it actually be better for Labor hacks to simply join the Netanyahu government and end their sad pretense of opposition?

Isaac Herzog, April 18, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

It’s tempting to cover our head with sackcloth and ashes, or alternatively to attack opposition leader Isaac Herzog for his embarrassing attempts to crawl into a unity government. The proposal for joining the government that is currently under discussion is indeed embarrassing, and it makes a laughingstock of the large electorate that gave him its votes. It apparently includes the Economy Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry and another few unimportant ministries, along with other jobs and the trappings of power, in exchange for cooperating with the most right-wing, unrestrained government we have ever had here, and giving a safety net to someone whom Herzog not so long ago awarded a failing grade for running the country.

The substantive gain from this move would be neither the ouster of Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister who incites against the justice system, nor the removal of Naftali Bennett as education minister, but rather receipt of the foreign affairs portfolio, which has been held in reserve for Herzog. In that capacity, he would babble to the world like Tzipi Livni did in the previous government (but even less effectively, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had trouble humiliating her), until world leaders learned to despise him even more than Netanyahu does.

At first glance, this move, whose entire purpose is to provide Herzog with a personal lifeline (though it’s not clear where it’s meant to pull him in the future), would indeed crush the political left and leave the opposition in the heads of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, a crude nationalist motivated by self-interest, about whose moral make-up the prime minister himself has provided evidence; and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who is capable of inciting even against himself if he discovers that it will help him in the polls.

Nevertheless, it’s worth stopping for a moment and asking honestly: What exactly do those who fear for the future of Israeli democracy have to gain by sitting in an opposition including Labor MK Nachman Shai, one of the immediate suspects for entering the government with Herzog? What benefits do those who fear the growing racism against Arabs and the violent incitement against leftists receive from an opposition including Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who denounced his party colleague Zouheir Bahloul and rushed to join in the verbal assault on Breaking the Silence following an “investigative report” against it by a right-wing group?

And what has Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin done to end the occupation? And how has Labor MK Eitan Broshi, who is hungrily eyeing the Agriculture Ministry or the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, helped resist the onslaught of delegitimization that the government is leading against the left?

Wouldn’t it actually be better for politicians with vague, timid ideologies, or those whose votes are determined by their political loyalties, to simply join this government and bear its shame, and thereby stop deceiving the public?

The entry into the government of any of Herzog’s loyalists wouldn’t necessarily be disastrous. Perhaps, as in the case of Ehud Barak – who abandoned the Labor Party when he joined the government in 2011, and subsequently disappeared from the political map along with the other intellectual giants of his Atzmaut party – it would present an opportunity for renewal.

In fact, the Labor Party would shed the viper’s skin. And even if it remained lean and shriveled, perhaps finally an ideological opposition to this government of incitement, occupation and settlements would arise, together with Meretz and, with a little goodwill and creativity on both sides, also with parts of the Joint Arab List.

A center-left movement would be established that doesn’t rely on the Histadrut labor federation’s network of hacks, who support joining the government for their own sake, or on Eitan Broshi’s limited powers, but on an ideological alliance between all those who are suffering to the point of suffocation under the current government and are capable of being potential partners in a return to power.

An opposition that dissolves like a baby tooth in a glass of Coca-Cola when faced with an aggressive government that intimidates everyone except its own loyalists doesn’t deserve to be called an opposition. We should let it return to its natural place – collaborating with the government.