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The Most Radical Thing One Could Do: Back Israel's Labor Party

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Labor contenders for party leadership at a June debate.
Labor contenders for party leadership at a June debate. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Would you mind answering a brief questionnaire that won’t take much time? Do you consider this week’s Labor Party primary a) Boring; b) Utterly irrelevant, like the party itself; c) Offering comic potential; d) How many times have you said the number of candidates is greater than the number of seats the party will win in an election?; e) Have you already stated that the party’s historical role is over and it should disappear (even if Yesh Atid is the party filling the vacuum)?

If you answered yes to four out of the five questions, then you’re an irresponsible left-winger who takes masochistic pleasure in kicking yourself in the head and is proud of strict standards no party can meet, including the Joint List. Congratulations! You’ve won a ticket to hell, where you will be forced to spend eternity with people just like you.

The really tricky thing here is that you’re right. This party has done everything possible to disappoint its supporters. It is a spineless opposition. It crawled on its belly to the governing coalition. The policy of its present chairman, Isaac Herzog, is to camouflage all its leftist characteristics, so that the party is not seen as “Arab lovers.” It has zero charisma and its internal politics recall a dysfunctional family with patterns of abuse.

Nevertheless, it’s a leftist, social democratic party and, under the current conditions, the only one that can try to extricate us from the ruins left behind by previous governments. It might be boring but, unlike the other left-wing parties, it isn’t standing still. The Mizrahi left is an important group and increasingly finds its home there, and Labor is adapting itself to that group. When Election Day comes, it will be good there are people voting for Meretz and the Joint List. But now it’s time to breathe new life into the Labor primary.

Sometimes it’s worth learning from the enemy. In the last election, when Habayit Hayehudi sensed that Likud was weakening and the Zionist Union (an alliance of Labor and Hatnuah) was leading by four seats in the polls, it decided to form a bloc. Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett called on right-wing nationalist settlers to attend a rally at Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, two days before the election.

People attending an event in Haifa on June 27, for Labor primary candidate Erel Margalit.Credit: Rami Shllush

He did this knowing it would leak seats to Likud – but anything to strengthen the antidemocratic, human rights-bashing, transfer-and-annexation-daydreamers bloc. But when Herzog speaks of a bloc, the left sees in its mind’s eye a cancerous growth rather than a coming together of democratic forces seeking the end of the occupation by diplomatic means and returning the territories.

The Labor primary will be held on Tuesday amid a wave of protests, civil society struggles and positive energy. This is happening against the backdrop of criminal investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the fiasco of the public broadcasting corporation (Kan), the Hadassah hospital crisis, the disabled taking to the streets (and Gilad Erdan), which are all examples of the government’s failure.

Even if Labor isn’t the party of your dreams, and even if you don’t intend to vote for it in the next Knesset election, emotional involvement, enthusiasm, caring, anger and joy are the only fuel the leftist camp needs. Keep your indulgent idleness for debates over “Twin Peaks” or Radiohead or Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” and preferably out of my earshot. I’ve already declared my firm support for Amir Peretz, and now I’m rooting for him and Labor from the bleachers – because that’s the most radical left-wing thing to do right now.

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