The Campaign Against Yachimovich

Yachimovich deserves support from her ideological opponents as well as from people in her camp.

Haaretz op-ed writers have recently concentrated their fire on MK Shelly Yachimovich, a contender for the Labor Party chair. Her opponents in that race have latched on to the campaign, hoping it can dent both Yachimovich's lead in the polls in advance of the September 12 primary, and more importantly her image as the most consistent champion of the social justice issue.

After Gidi Weitz's interview with the candidate, which ridiculed her as "mainstream," the pile-on began. Yachimovich was attacked by at least four columnists: Gideon Levy, Avirama Golan and Nehemia Shtrasler, with the last broadside fired by Zeev Sternhell. Sternhell didn't bother to mention Yachimovich by name, but sufficed with the pronouncement that one cannot be a legitimate spokesperson for social equality unless one simultaneously lambasts the occupation, and Palestinian suffering.

As I belong to the opposite end of the political spectrum, self-interest should dictate that I quietly root for Yachimovich's critics. Indeed, Yachimovich's position actually offers the left its best chance to return to power. Since 1977, the left has been able to win only by "neutralizing" the security issue, which generally works in favor of the Likud and other nationalist parties. This was the successful pattern established in 1992 and in 1999 by Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, respectively - security experts who took relatively hawkish lines during the campaign.

Yachimovich, unlike Rabin or Barak, is no former chief of staff; she attempts to neutralize the security issue differently, by stating that the possibility of peace is on the back burner, pending a shift in the Arab position. Therefore, she argues, one should abandon sterile old divides and concentrate on more pertinent social issues.

If the voter feels secure that Labor led by Yachimovich is not about to embark on a security path essentially different from the Likud's, he will be open to considering Labor and Yachimovich's message on social issues. This strategy could divert crucial Knesset seats to the left. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unwittingly abets this strategy with the restraint he has exhibited in the face of Palestinian missile terror from Gaza. Netanyahu conveys the same message: that on security there is little difference between the major blocs, and therefore the campaign moves to the social issue.

Yachimovich deserves support from her ideological opponents as well as from people in her camp because the campaign against her tests Israel's ability to have a serious and intellectually honest debate. She has sinned in the eyes of the hard left by stating plain but inconvenient truths, and then refusing to recant. She has abandoned the left's dog-whistle tactics of demonizing settlements as innately evil to avoid confronting the issues on their merits.

Having been a diligent member of the Knesset Finance Committee, Yachimovich refuses to brand the settlements as rapacious devourers of budgetary resources, because she knows better. For her the debate on settlements should center around what is good for Israel.

Yachimovich's position essentially embraces Bill Clinton's 2000 proposal at Camp David, which would dismantle many Jewish communities and divide Jerusalem - a proposal that was rejected by Yasser Arafat as a prelude to the second intifada.

That formula and the closure it attempts to achieve is still explicitly rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state even after an independent Palestine is established. Likewise, Abbas will not and cannot abandon the Palestinian right of return, and on his recent visit to Lebanon told his hosts that upon a declaration of statehood half a million Palestinians will quit Lebanon. Two guesses where he intends them to go.

I reject Yachimovich's position and her belief that the Clinton offer should remain indefinitely on the table even after it crashed in blood and fire. However this is still a debate within the Zionist family. Yachimovich, unlike Sternhell, has no patience for those who lament an occupation that the Palestinians have perpetuated by refusing to agree to any terms that would legitimate a Jewish Israel, or who obsess on Palestinian suffering when the Palestinians harbor plans for our extinction. Yachimovich, to her credit, is not the European left of the late 1930s, which opposed military budgets and lionized the toothless League of Nations even as Germany was rearming.

She has also stirred up the nest by reminding her party that it was the original architect of the settlements. This, contrary to Golan's assertion, does not mean that Rabin never lived, but that his life's work included the establishment of settlements, including in Gaza.

When one confronts an unambiguous historical record, one either acknowledges it truthfully, as Yachimovich does, or attempts to evade it. One can always perform a Stalinist airbrushing of history that deletes murdered opponents and embarrassing quotations.

If Labor has belatedly discovered that its settlement progeny are evil, the public is at least entitled to an apology reminiscent of Barak's to Sephardic voters in 1997 in the name of "all Labor Party generations." To her credit, Yachimovich will not stoop to either the airbrush or the apology.

Dr. Amiel Ungar, a political scientist, is a regular contributor to Haaretz English Edition.