Out of Sight, Out of Its Mind

The Labor Party in opposition behaves like a sated, indolent landlord who was at last thrown into the street in disgrace and is now trying to adopt the airs of a proletarian revolutionary.

Stupefied and ponderous, its falsity and artificiality are ludicrously apparent with its every movement and gesture. This was illustrated in almost comic fashion at a meeting of the party's Knesset faction "devoted to the struggle of the single mothers," where it seemed Ilana Azoulay and her energetic colleagues were hosting the party members, and not the other way round.

The MKs stared with glazed eyes at those bearing the banners of the social welfare struggle, which sprang up without their knowledge, participation or input. They could barely bring themselves to lap up the fruits of the propaganda victory in the words of one of the opposition mothers: "Every morning I am regretful and contrite that I left and voted Likud."

If the Labor MKs were regretful or contrite for "leaving and voting Likud" during the two catastrophic years of the first Sharon government, they sure didn't show it. On the contrary - basking in blessed amnesia, the members of the Labor Party's Knesset faction seem to be in a world of their own, a limbo that exists beyond time or place.

That, too, is the explanation for their tour of the settlements in the Gaza Strip where, as the cameras rolled, they held a workshop "to persuade the settlers to leave immediately." If you didn't see Dalia Itzik MK in a bracelet-rattling, arm-waving demonstration of eviction motions, you have never seen a political opposition in action.

Were it not for the warnings of the Shin Bet security service, the tour would have featured the eternal man for all seasons himself, Shimon Peres, who only 18 months and something ago, as the Zelig-like foreign minister of Ariel Sharon - "I will say the words the way you told me to say them" - contemptuously rejected both the proposal for a hudna and the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative. He asked: "What do we need this for? Everything an Arab writes, we will say yes to?"

But a few months have gone by since then, which are more than the minimum time needed for all the cells in Peres's body to be replaced - indeed not only in his, but in the entire Labor Party. So, if you mention the name of Ehud Barak for instance, who boasted that unlike Benjamin Netanyahu, he had never withdrawn by a centimeter in the territories, the Labor Party will look at you with the incredulity of an amnesiac. Ehud who?

Maybe we should remind the party of its very recent full partnership with the policy of targeted assassinations, escalation and the Lebanonization of the war in the territories - none of which prevented unprecedented peaks of terrorism precisely during the tenure of a certain Benjamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer as party leader. Maybe, but it's possible that even he himself will lift a drowsy eyelid and chant his articulate doctrine from the period when he was Ariel Sharon's defense minister: "I tell you... I-I-I tell you... a discussion was held... a hard week, a very hard week, can be expected... serious, very serious, alerts... I-I-I embrace the troops..."

Indeed, only a complete metamorphosis on the scale of a cockroach that woke up one morning and discovered it had become a clerk, could explain the bill that Labor submitted to the Knesset this week "to arrange in legislation" a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. "The time has come for the Knesset to wake up and understand that the question of unilateral separation has to be arranged by means of legislation."

The fact that such a bill has about as much chance of passing in the present Knesset as bills against gambling, putting on weight and nepotism only adds a modicum of charm to this pseudo-opposition effort - like a single curl that plasters itself on the forehead of a boxer in the ring played by Charlie Chaplin.

What more is there to say? There is nothing more pathetic than the sight of the Labor Party in opposition. And there is scarcely an item on the crowded national agenda - especially in areas supposedly close to the party's heart - where its presence is missed. It may even be the opposite. The cease-fire, which Shimon Peres opposed when he was in the government, before hundreds of people were killed for no reason, was achieved while he was in the opposition, if one can use that term for what he does.

In the realm of diplomacy the Sharon government has forged ahead without Labor, whereas with Labor included, the coalition only managed to tread water. In the military and security sphere, no perceptible change in the scale of brutality has been noticed, with or without Labor. Regarding the state and religion, Shinui has taken more decisive action toward defining secular Israeliness than Labor ever did in its entire history. And now, social and economic struggles are spontaneously welling up from below - why, the Labor Party cannot even manage to hitch a ride on the bandwagon.

Come on though. Is a party whose middle name is Volvo going to stoop to hitchhiking? True, it is hard to do much in opposition - highlighting the need for the "shadow government" institution here - and it would be rash to bury the Labor Party. We do this with every opposition party and Labor may yet have a decisive role to play in the political process that is unfolding.

But at least for now, and because of Labor's degenerate and opportunist behavior, all we can say is, "old friends, you are not missed." Not missed in peace, nor in war. Not in state, nor in religion. Not in social affairs, and not in security matters, and not in government. Not even in opposition.