Beilin, the Social Democrat, Takes Aim

Meretz head bemoans, 'I am one of those to blame for Amir Peretz's advancement.'

Yossi Beilin is the high-tech worker of Israeli politics, and not just because of his glasses. He is one of the most active politicians in generating solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians. One time it's the Geneva initiative. Before that it was Oslo, not to mention a couple of ideas that never got off the ground.

But like many high-tech people, Beilin, too, failed in marketing. He is an inventor and a provider of solutions for clients who don't want his solutions or are not prepared to pay the price for them. He does no market research before developing an idea. First he produces, then he seeks buyers. If he were a high-tech entrepreneur, it's reasonable to assume that he would have many startups to his credit but none with a successful exit.

With Hamas grabbing power in the Palestinian Authority, Beilin understands that an election run as the best friend of the Palestinians is not goods in particular demand. Meanwhile, economics make a better product, thanks to Amir Peretz, who put the economy on the national agenda. Peretz brings a social approach that puts the worker in the center, Benjamin Netanyahu is marketing an economic plan with poverty reduction at its core, and Beilin understands that he needs to play on this court. So, let the Palestinians wait. Now it's the turn of the middle class.

Yossi Beilin, you are identified more than anyone else as one who deals with political issues, and agreements with the Palestinians. Why are you granting an interview to a business paper?

"The economic realm was central to Meretz from a historical perspective and from my personal angle. It's a subject in which I've dealt quite a lot, also academically. I didn't study economics. I studied and taught sociology. I have a well-developed economic outlook tied to my political outlook as well. Whoever doesn't see a Palestinian from a meter away doesn't see a poor person from a meter away. The public that knows Meretz knows that it's a social-minded party. Most of our legislation is actually socially oriented, and not political. Haim Oron is the king of the Finance Committee, and it's hard to imagine the committee without him. Regretfully, despite all this, we are still not perceived as owning a socio-economic thesis."

You did indeed serve previously as economics minister and even handled the sale of Bank Hapoalim to the Arison group, but you make the impression that your economic outlook differs from that of your Meretz colleagues.

"I am the ultimate expression of Meretz. It doesn't contradict what you say. Meretz is a merger of three historical parties - Mapam, Ratz and Shinui. Mapam was socialist. I once was speaking with Mapam leader Yaakov Hazan. He asked me, 'what are you?'. I told him I was a social democrat. He told me, 'there's no such thing, either your a socialist or you're a capitalist.' Meretz was typically a human rights party, and Shinui was a very liberal party."

So you basically belong to the liberal stream of Shinui?

"I am very far from Shinui, heaven forbid. My viewpoint is a historical meeting between the social outlook and the liberal outlook. It's a third way developed in the late 20th century, and its believers are people like British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It's an outlook that believes in state responsibility to the individual in fields like pension, housing and education, while maintaining principals of personal freedom and preserving the individual at the center. I believe in a social welfare state, but I don't identify with the Hazan-type who believes in socialist means of production. Nationalization of means of production is a disaster. On the other hand, I don't relish privatization.

You oppose privatization?

I am for privatization, but it needs to be done carefully. There's no reason for the state to distribute the mail if it can be done by private hands. I don't side with privatization of monopolies before opening the market to competition and before taking care of workers' rights. In practice, it's no different from what Amir Peretz says. How do you differ from him?

"Amir Peretz was part of our group in the Labor Party, and I was one of the people who pushed him in 1994 to run for head of the Histadrut labor federation. Our goal was to differentiate between the party and the Histadrut. The Histadrut was really an arm of the party back then, and we saw this connection as despicable. I liked Amir and admired him. We thought Amir needed to be the Histadrut chair, but he did exactly what the people we fought against did. He used the Histadrut to fulfill his political goals - he directed Histadrut people to the Labor Party and thus took control of the party.

"It made me very sorry. I am one of those to blame for Amir Peretz's advancement. I saw in him a man who built himself up, a real leftist."

He didn't protect workers enough?

"When Peretz was in the Knesset, he acted more than once against workers' interests. When I was justice minister, I tried to cancel the state of emergency that has existed since the state's establishment and allows the state to act in certain instances in a manner unbefitting to a civilized nation. Peretz opposed cancelling the state of emergency because the transition also involved legislation banning strikes of essential services. Strikes in essential services are still banned by emergency orders. People don't know exactly what Peretz thinks on social issues. He is a populist leader, which is why he needs Avishay Braverman to explain that he's not a communist. It explains the whole story. I am for a strong Histadrut and for organizing workers."

Sources close to Peretz refused to comment on Beilin's claims, only saying, "We suggest that Beilin focus on efforts to muster past the minimum threshold."