Don't Let His Innocent Looks Fool You

Ofer Eini looks like an innocent babe, like the kind of person who stays far away from political games and deals with matters directly.

In recent days the Histadrut labor federation chair has taken a beating from the press and unions for not shutting down the country with a strike to protest the lack of payment to local authority workers. The headlines screamed, "you folded" because the press wants blood. But, he responded, the best strike is the one that never occured. That is indeed true, on condition that you can get results.

Eini sent the ball into the prime minister's court. The PM made a commitment to deal with the problem within three weeks, but Ehud Olmert has more pressing matters to attend. He first has to defend himself from the state comptroller and the Winograd Committee, for example.

Yet it turns out that despite his innocent image, Eini is a seasoned political fox, who is about to pull off the mother of all stunts: winning an election without any elections.

Eini was appointed Histadrut chair in January 2006 without any voting after Amir Peretz departed. Eini thought it fitting to initiate agreements with the parties to avert elections scheduled for May. He approached Kadima and asked the party: how much could you expect to win - 5 percent of the vote in the best case scenario? I offer you 10 percent of the Histadrut leadership, with a variety of portfolios, committee positions, trips abroad, and places on various boards of directors. Kadima considered his offer briefly and accepted. In the same manner, he offered the Pensioners Party "respectable representation" in Histadrut institutions as well as other parties, save for Likud, which is still hesitating.

Let's face it. It's no fun being in the Histadrut opposition. There are no plum jobs, no trips, no money. So why would the groups of hustlers controlling the different parties give up on the good life of being in the halls of power?

Indeed, the old Zionist pioneering song goes, "We came to the Land to build and be rebuilt by it," but for years many have been singing, "We came to the land to be set up by it."

Eini won't run on the Labor ticket. His relationship with Amir Peretz has turned sour. Instead, he will follow his teacher and set up a super-party called Ogen ("Anchor"). The first two letters in the Hebrew are exactly the first two letters of his first name. Amir Peretz did the same thing with the party he founded, Am Ehad ("One Nation").

But the student has surpassed the master. Peretz did run once in democratic elections against the Likud's Maxim Levy. Eini, on the other hand, never ran. And now, again, there won't be elections, but rather a distribution of booty among the parties.

The 40-odd trade unions learned this method, and they haven't held elections for a decade. The leaders don't change, there's no opposition, no democracy, and no control.

The Histadrut will not undergo the restructuring so desperately needed in this manner. Some 30 district heads, most of whom belong to the Labor party, have been promised through status quo freezing agreements that they will be able to remain in their jobs, despite the fact that these districts are basically superfluous.

And so it's clear that without elections, without opposition, and without control, the body atrophies and power passes to wheeler dealers. Thus has the innocent Eini surpassed his master. Thus will the Histadrut lose its power base in the public. And thus Eini is destroying the Histadrut with his own hands.