The resignation of Shelly Yacimovich, one of the Knesset’s most prominent legislators and a leader of the Labor Party for the past several years, is yet another sign that the party is dying. Yacimovich, who entered politics after a successful journalism career, saw the Labor Party as an effective platform for changing Israel. But after 13 years, she concluded that she has exhausted her “ability to change the conversation.”
In defiance of the new political fashion for “instant parties,” which are dominated by a culture of acquisitions and reserved places on the ticket, Yacimovich made her own way in Labor, eventually becoming its leader, and built a community of loyal supporters. She was noteworthy for her clear stands and her loyalty to the social democratic tradition. During her long career as a legislator, she pushed through many new laws, the vast majority of which dealt with protecting workers.
The best known is the “right to work while seated law,” popularly dubbed the “cashiers’ law,” which requires employers to provide their employees with a place to sit. She was also behind a law to prevent women who miss work due to fertility treatments from being fired, as well as a law requiring the security services to buy uniforms made in Israel to support the local textile industry. Her firm stance against the economy’s most powerful tycoons and executives was also expressed in other laws she sponsored, like the law to cap the salaries of senior executives in the financial sector, as well as in her battle against the natural gas monopoly.
Yet during her term as the Labor Party’s chairwoman, Yacimovich erred by focusing almost completely on socioeconomic issues while neglecting diplomatic issues. Even though she was considered a leftist, she said things like “I certainly don’t see the settlement enterprise as a sin and a crime” and “The Labor Party was never a left-wing party.” When she was criticized for this, she venomously mocked her critics. “It’s been revealed that I don’t meet the requirements of the post-Zionist fraternity that holds its meetings in a telephone booth in Bil’in,” she said, referring to a Palestinian town in the West Bank.
Whether she abandoned the diplomatic field because she was trying to attract votes from the right or because this was her own personal preference, judging by the results, Yacimovich failed. Even worse, by turning the diplomatic issue into excess baggage, and by her contemptuous treatment of people who sought to make the desire to end the occupation a top priority, she contributed to the right’s unbridled delegitimization campaign against the left – a campaign that is currently at its height.
Yacimovich isn’t solely or even primarily to blame for the collapse of the Labor Party, which won only six seats in the last election. But a party that aspires to be a ruling party has no right to neglect the most important issue of all for Israel’s continue existence as a democratic state – ending the occupation and implementing a two-state solution.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.