Reviving the Dead

In an article in support of Amir Peretz this week, I described Labor as a walking corpse that had lost its vitality. Everyone knew it needed a gust of fresh air and a shot of Adrenalin, since it had become a Likud groupie.

In an article in support of Amir Peretz this week, I described Labor as a walking corpse that had lost its vitality. Everyone knew it needed a gust of fresh air and a shot of Adrenalin, since it had become a Likud groupie. Its ministers stick to their chairs and are unfelt. The Israeli public is fed up with its politicians, their large and small corruption, and the combination deals like the Matan Vilnai-Shimon Peres one in which a man who aspires to become prime minister promises a Defense Ministry portfolio that he doesn't have in exchange for someone without a chance of getting winning throws in the towel in the race for prime minister.

Peretz's candidacy was greeted with mockery, whether due to his ethnic background or the place from where he hails. But more than anything, it never occurred to anyone in the upper branches of Labor that a Mizrahi could ever be a prime ministerial candidate. And now the unbelievable has happened. Peretz's victory is more than the revolution of 1977 it is a political earthquake. More precisely, it landed like a reviver of the dead for a dying party.

With the removal of Peres, who was behaving as if he had a deed to lead the party, Ariel Sharon remains the last of the 1948 generation in politics. Peretz's victory moves the periphery to the front of the stage. From now on, that is where the next national leaders will come from. He formed, or is going to form, a fighting opposition against the enormous gaps between rich and poor, between the eye-popping wealth of the rich and the distress of an entire generation. He will turn Labor back into a movement of values whose goal since the founding of the state has not been a car for every worker, but first of all, bread for every worker. Peretz's victory is first of all tidings of early elections.

The Likud will have to organize against a possible wave of migration by some of its voters to Labor. The choice of Peretz is irreversible, because it symbolizes not only a changing of the generational guard, but also movement of the center of political gravity from the political to the social issue. His election will attract a new public to its ranks, but nonetheless he has to stand guard lest Labor revert to a sectarian party, and there's no migration from its ranks to the centrist parties. If Sharon, against the background of the split with the Likud rebels, quits the party and forms a new one, it will be up to Peretz to ensure that some of Labor's members don't escape into Sharon's party.

Although Peres did not pick up the phone to congratulate the winner, a custom even in Poland, and he is still looking into whether there was cheating in the elections, Sharon warmly congratulated Peretz. And rightly so. He understood immediately that this is an upheaval that will affect the Likud. And Sharon's interest is that the alliance he began with Peres continues with Peretz. Changing the subject from political to social should not make anyone forget that Sharon and Peretz share a common interest in advancing the political process, and getting through the obstacles placed by the rebels and extremists wherever they are.

The ascendant Peretz, happy for his victory, must calculate how to use the powers in the party. He has to make sure the victory doesn't go to his head. He has to use all the forces in Labor and not work alone. He should not forget that the party institutions the central committee, the bureau, do not belong to him. He is relatively new, and will have to pay attention to their view. He will have to prove he is worthy of the trust that he has been given, and can meet expectations. He will have to make the changes he's talking about like the driver of a large truck, with broad and careful turns. As a labor leader, it is easy to speak in slogans, but as a national leader, he will have to take into consideration all that is happening in the world in the economic sphere, and his behavior in that realm should be as cautious as copulating porcupines.

The next elections will undoubtedly be advanced now. Until then, he has two missions: to build himself as a recognized, responsible and judicious leader, and to reshape Labor into a party of ideas and values and into a leading central political party. And for God's sake, remain authentic in your victory, and especially don't give into the advice to shave your mustache, which became a symbol of the change.