Opinion |

Yes, Israel Still Needs the Labor Party

No real change will come with the help of Benny Gantz’s troops alone. They desperately need a strong, living, breathing Zionist left

Uzi Baram
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Labor Chief Avi Gabbay at a press conference, Jerusalem, January 31, 2019.
Labor Chief Avi Gabbay at a press conference, Jerusalem, January 31, 2019.Credit:
Uzi Baram

I admit Benny Gantz is refreshing news; but it seems to me that we’re getting carried away. There have in fact been parties that left the stage and others that suffocated as a result of mergers – the Liberal Party disappeared inside Gahal, Mapam (the United Workers Party), dissipated inside Meretz – but the Labor Party? Has it reached the end of the road? Is there really no longer a place in Israel’s political echelon for a Zionist party that rejects the nation-state law and has a social-democratic bent?

Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy thinks that there isn’t. On the other hand, had the party followed his path, its voters would not be fleeing to Gantz. Then to whom would they be running? To him, of course, all 1,500 voters who agree with him …

Let’s assume that Gantz is very successful. What will the political system look like in that case? A revolting right – Benjamin Netanyahu, Oren Hazan, Miri Regev and Yariv Levin. A New Right – whitish and with evil intentions; a right flirting with the center – Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Zvi Hauser. Yesh Atid – a default party; every time a candidate cut out to be a leader crops up, it collapses into itself.

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The Labor Party is not a new product. The party can boast of a glorious past, with all the mistakes that come with having a glorious past. Its talented young people can bring about changes that will help block the dominant spirit of the right. Will the voter who prefers the Zionist left and wants to take down Netanyahu do so even at the price of the collapse of the party of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin?

They say that Labor is irrelevant. Who exactly is irrelevant: Amir Peretz? Shelly Yacimovich? Stav Shaffir? Itzik Shmuli? And so many other good ones, including new faces? The Labor Party is like a house on the verge of collapse, but it is impossible to ignore this house’s strong foundations, molded over the course of generations.

As for Gantz, I urge every right-winger I encounter to vote for him. Gantz is the hope of a huge public, which is tired of a leader without a conscience and his screeching staff, and aspires to breathe fresh air. But no real change will come with the help of Gantz’s troops alone, even if Yair Lapid joins him. They desperately need a strong, living, breathing Zionist left, which will help bring about the revolution that is so essential.

I call on those who have left Labor, those whose breath is taken away by the sound of Gantz’s footsteps: Stop before you make a move. You must envision the face of the country after the election campaign, in ordinary times when there is room for a battle over the path, over principles and changes.

The right has already won by setting the diplomatic agenda, and to some extent the civil agenda as well. Everyone who wants to defeat the reigning right is composing slogans similar to theirs. The right has won in the battle for awareness. It has adhered to the sense of fear, to the belief in force and force alone. The right has also succeeded in embedding the following slogan among its supporters: “Anyone who is not with us is on the left, because that’s what Benjamin Netanyahu says.”

Gantz and Ya’alon, and I’m convinced that Lapid as well, are coming to stop the incitement and the divisiveness and to uproot the Regevism that is likely to flourish at the Likud primaries. There will always be a tendency to brand those on the left and those on the right, but only a fool could believe that the party of Gantz-Ya’alon-Hauser-Yoaz Hendel is a left-wing party.

The left defines itself, and has no need to be defined by Netanyahu’s spiritual mentors. The members of the Zionist left must safeguard the glowing ember that is unique to them: a great past, which will lead to an encouraging future.

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