Opinion |

Does the Israeli Left Really Need Two More Party Hacks?

Yair Fink and Uri Zaki may be 'the next generation' of Israeli politics, but they, too, are members of the money-government-media club

sharon shpurer
Sharon Shpurer
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Meretz and Labor signs in Jerusalem, during the 2021 election.
Meretz and Labor signs in Jerusalem, during the 2021 election.Credit: Emil Salman
sharon shpurer
Sharon Shpurer

Yair Fink and Uri Zaki are “the next generation” of politics in Israel. Fink ran in the Labor Party primary on Monday and Zaki will run in the Meretz primary in two weeks. Both are young and promising, combat officers in the reserves, active in politics from an early age.

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They say all the right words, they represent an enlightened, democratic worldview. Their chances of getting into the Knesset depend on the number of seats their parties get and their place on the party roster, given that certain places are reserved – two significant unknowns – but among candidates who are not sitting MKs they are considered to have a good chance.

Still, it’s not at all certain that what the left and the public in Israel needs right now is more of the same: politicians who are connected to the money-government-media club, or politicians who are mainly party hacks.

Zaki, chairman of the Meretz board, who has been dreaming of the Knesset for years, ran in the primary in 2015, but dropped out for the sake of the political career of his partner, Tamar Zandberg, who became party chairwoman. Recently, Kalman Liebskind (Maariv) published an investigative report, a continuation of the investigation by Tomer Michelzon (“The Hottest Place in Hell”) about the way Zaki was appointed to the plum position of salaried chairman of the Herzl Center with Zandberg’s assistance.

At the heart of the investigation is a close associate of Zandberg and Zaki – Dror Morag, former Meretz secretary general and, for more than a decade, board member of the World Zionist Organization representing Meretz. Morag appointed Zaki to an administrative position in the WZO about six years ago.

When Zandberg became the environmental affairs minister, she appointed Morag to serve as her chief of staff. That happened a few months after Morag began to work toward appointing Zaki chairman of the Herzl Center, a body of the WZO. And as Zandberg’s chief of staff, Morag continued working on the matter, approaching, as a public servant, his replacement as head of a WZO department and discussing with him the preferred candidate for the Herzl Center position – Zaki of course – who was indeed eventually chosen.

Former Labor party leader MK Shelly Yacimovich and Meretz leader MK Zahava Galon at the 2014 Israel Conference on Peace. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Fink is also experienced in political wheeling and dealing. He is a protégé of Shelly Yacimovich, who also contributed a small sum to the current election campaign and wrote a post calling on Meretz members to vote for him. This is his third attempt to get into the Knesset. The first time was in early 2019 in the Labor Party, where, while he was considered the surprise of the primary, it was still not enough to win him a seat. A few months later he left to join Ehud Barak and his close friend, Kobi Richter, one of the wealthiest people in Israel and the patron of the “Anybody But Bibi” camp, and establish a new party. Fink had apparently managed to forget that eight years before he had tweeted: “Now that we’ve gotten rid of Ehud Barak we can set out on a new road.”

In a similar way, in the Histadrut labor federation, where he has served as an elected official in one of the union’s senior bodies since 2017, he relentlessly criticized Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David, among other things for supposedly abandoning the workers during the COVID crisis. But after he joined Bar-David’s coalition, he suddenly began to praise him, to the displeasure of some of his fellow faction members, who claimed that he did so behind their backs.

But these are not only zigzags, they’re also the way in which he presents his goods to the public. For example, after his second unsuccessful attempt to enter the Knesset, Fink began to work for the movement Darkenu, founded by Polly Bronstein and Nimrod Dweck, to which the abovementioned Richter, who had moments before been his colleague in the new party, channeled millions. In Darkenu, Fink founded a body called DemocraTV, an internet television broadcast platform.

Fink called for support for the new media outlet and presented it as free and independent, funded by the public, intended to deal with issues involving the intersection of government, money and the media, because the platform was not controlled by wealthy investors and was obligated only to the public interest. But in fact, the public was funneling millions of shekels to Darkenu – a political movement that for years ran political campaigns and organized rallies, in some cases paying activists to show up and protest against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Moreover, in the United States, the movement received many millions every year from billionaires in Israel and the United States, among whom, besides Richter, were Aviad Meitar, Frank Lowy, Nathan Hetz and others.

This platform hardly dealt with government, money and the media unless it had to do with covering Netanyahu’s trial. Of course, the broadcasts also hardly touched the matter of the high cost of living in Israel. But not two weeks had passed when the cost of living started to interest Fink as a candidate in the Labor primary.

Last week, he starred in the media when he came out against the cost of disposable diapers in Israel. The height of cynicism came on Channel 13, when he appeared a week ago on its investigative news show Seventh Eye, and he didn’t mention that he was running in the Labor primary while bringing with him mothers protesting the cost of diapers – women who coincidently worked with him for Yacimovich and/or Darkenu a minute earlier.

Fink also aimed at an easy target when he mentioned the name of diaper manufacturer Kimberly Clark, which in any case is starring on Channel 13’s news magazine Hatzinor about the rising cost of living. He did not, perish the thought, mention tycoons like Len Blavatnik, the owner of Channel 13 and a large part of the cement market in Israel, or David Wertheim, the owner of the Central Bottling Company, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank and Channel 12.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the day after TheMarker published an investigation of the billionaires behind DemocraTV under Fink, Zaki was one of the first to support him on Twitter, and write that he salutes Fink and Darkenu for establishing DemocraTV. Well done to those who roll up their sleeves in the struggle of the Israeli public against those who stop at nothing, tweeted Zaki. Thanks very much, dear partner, Fink tweeted back.

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