Opinion |

An Alternative Path for Israel's Labor Party?

The showing of Amir Peretz and Avi Gabbay proves that Labor Party members want to fight for the State of Israel’s character from an economic, diplomatic and democratic perspective

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Avi Gabbay and Amir Peretz
Avi Gabbay, left, and Amir PeretzCredit: Olivier Fitoussi, Moti Milrod

The choice of Amir Peretz and Avi Gabbay in the Labor Party leadership primary’s first round Tuesday was a choice on behalf of the party’s collective desire to live, function and be an important element in Israeli politics. It’s true that today’s Labor is not Zionist Union, which won 24 Knesset seats; its power has contracted and its status is shaky. Talk of the party in its present state challenging the national leadership seems audacious, but the nature of audacity is that contains the seeds of either disappointment or hope. Perhaps the time has come for hope.

The primaries for the Labor Party leadership were accompanied from the beginning by negative campaigning against the leading candidates, a campaign that the party voters rejected. The results of the election showed that a lack of political ethics will be punished.

The current national bon-ton is to be more nationalistic, more religious and less democratic. The alternative that Yesh Atid presents to the public is one that doesn’t want to start a confrontation about incitement, sacralization or democracy. The spirit of its campaign is: We’re similar to them, but cleaner, better, and defend the state against all its detractors. The Labor Party is inserting itself into the crack between a government trying to change the State of Israel’s familiar DNA and the Yair Lapid alternative, which believes in maintaining quiet and sanitizing the atmosphere. Labor is venturing in hesitantly, perhaps, but also with faith and hope.

But for Labor to be a real alternative, it must shake off the long tradition of dissension that clings to it. It must wholeheartedly back whichever candidate is chosen. Will that happen? Will Labor’s members be able to diminish their egos in the hope that an alternative will be created? New communities will not be attracted to the party if there’s no feeling that it is united in its efforts and objectives. If the party is united, it will be able advance. And if it does significantly better than in the past, it will have the power to go all the way.

Presumably Lapid’s political behavior doesn’t stem from an inability to express himself differently. The best experts are advising him not to turn his back on the overt and covert desires of the Israeli voter, namely to strengthen his faith in the state, to feel like a Jew and to be a patriot. The candidate who wins the Labor leadership can’t go that route. The winner in Labor has to challenge people and fight to present a path, develop plans and generate hope.

Avi Gabbay comes from the field of economics and is a self-made man. He joined up with Moshe Kahlon, left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government voluntarily and got a surprisingly welcoming reception from the Labor Party. Gabbay put the desire for change at the forefront of his campaign and received considerable support. Amir Peretz is a man of action. He was active in his hometown of Sderot, has socioeconomic achievements under his belt in the Histadrut and Knesset, as well as diplomatic and defense experience as defense minister and cabinet member. He has a lot of accomplishments to his credit, and his abilities and experience make him a suitable candidate for running the party and the country.

It seems to me that the choice of these two candidates in the first round and the runoff between them proves that Labor Party members want to fight for the State of Israel’s character from an economic, diplomatic and democratic perspective. Will this struggle yield a Labor Party that can be a viable alternative? The chances of that are better now.