The arguments over who should lead the Labor Party are almost superfluous. None of the candidates, not even Ehud Barak, whose image seems to be hovering over it all, won’t be able to stop the ongoing weakening of the leftist parties. Not Amir Peretz, who already got his chance and blew it; not Avi Gabbay, who saw a party available for leading and jumped to it, and not Erel Margalit or any of the others attempting to persuade the confused party voters of their ability to breathe new life into a corpse.
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One can only wonder why they are trying so hard to lead a party likely to win only a single-digit number of seats in the next election. We should feel even sorrier for those party members deliberating over whom to vote for in the leadership primary, as if their decision will change anything. Don’t they know that every one of these candidates will, after his victory, do everything he can to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government as a fifth wheel?
The collapse of Labor and Meretz is not unique to Israel. The left is evaporating all over the Western world, including France, Germany, Italy, the United States and even Britain, where Conservative Theresa May’s recent victory was derided as if it were a defeat, and Labour’s Jeremy Corbin’s loss was celebrated in the media as a victory. After the disappearance of the communist parties, it’s apparently the social-democratic parties’ turn. Since the phenomenon is a general one, supporters of the left in Israel ought to stop dreaming about glorious triumphs and start thinking about why the left is losing its place among the public. They should try to understand what it is that’s repeatedly weakening the left everywhere.
But that’s the grand mission. The immediate question is what to do about Labor. Common sense seems to point to one salient fact: Ever since Barak lost to Ariel Sharon in the prime ministerial race of 2001, the Labor Party hasn’t stopped losing. In 2003, headed by Amram Mitzna, the party won 19 seats (Peretz then headed Am Echad and won three); in 2006, Peretz returned and Labor under his leadership again won 19 seats; in 2009 Barak was at the helm and it won 13 seats, and in 2013 Labor looked to Shelly Yacimovich for salvation and won 15 seats.
This sequence of misery and defeat was broken only once, in the elections two years ago when Isaac Herzog wisely joined forces with Tzipi Livni as Zionist Union and won a sensational 24 seats.
But it wasn’t enough, because Netanyahu managed to persuade both Habayit Hayehudi voters and supporters of Yisrael Beiteinu to vote for Likud instead (and here Labor erred in refraining from trying to persuade Meretz voters to support it). But it proved beyond a doubt that Livni brought Zionist Union nine seats’ worth of centrist voters who weren’t Labor voters. Contending in the next election without her, after the broad movement of voters toward Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, would almost be political suicide.
The only one who understands this seems to be Herzog. It’s true that he failed and discredited himself when he tried to enter the Netanyahu government. But have no illusions: When the time comes, all the other candidates will also try to join forces with Netanyahu in order to save themselves from oblivion. If Labor voters want an alternative not just to Netanyahu but also to Lapid, then let them choose Herzog. At least he brings Livni with him.