|Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem|
Labor in opposition: A historic opportunity
By ISI LEIBLER
Candidly speaking: Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich initially expressed bitterness and regret when the unity government was proclaimed.
Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich initially expressed bitterness and regret
when the unity government was proclaimed. But she is sufficiently sophisticated
and intelligent to appreciate that being elevated to leader of the opposition
provides her with an incredible opportunity to initiate a process of restoring
her battered party to a position of relevance in the Israeli political
Labor Zionism totally dominated Israeli politics in the early
decades of the state. It began to disintegrate in the aftermath of the Oslo
Accords when it became permeated by delusional leftists and
Yacimovich, formerly perceived as a somewhat acerbic and
intolerant journalist with little direct experience in the parliamentary
political arena, has already conveyed signals to the effect that she intends to
transform Labor into a genuine social democratic party which would have greater
appeal to the Israeli mainstream.
She has indicated her intent to
concentrate on social and economic issues. She has also made it clear that she
intends to continue advocating a dovish approach with respect to relations with
the Palestinians and remains opposed to the ongoing expansion of
However, she has gone out of her way to avoid demonizing
settlers, even reminding her own supporters that it was the Labor party which
initially paved the way for the growth of settlements.
challenge is the manner in which she will direct the opposition. Labor holds a
mere eight seats in the Knesset and is confronted by a coalition government in
the unprecedented position of commanding 94 seats. But her voice as leader of
the opposition and the influence of Labor in public discourse can assume a far
more important role in national politics than her numerical
This will be determined by how Israelis perceive her
leadership – either as an extension of one of the most disastrous oppositions in
the history of the Knesset, as exemplified by Kadima head Tzipi Livni, or as a
responsible, constructive and intelligent leader providing rational alternatives
to government policies.
Livni’s performance as leader of the opposition
provided a salutary lesson on precisely how an opposition leader should not
perform. When she declined to join the Netanyahu government and first assumed
the role of opposition leader, she was at the height of her popularity. But she
clearly underestimated the intelligence and sophistication of the electorate and
by indiscriminately attacking the government at every opportunity, she
ultimately succeeded in even alienating Kadima supporters and causing the
downfall of her party.
HER PERSONAL animosity toward Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu was displayed in hysterical condemnations of virtually every
policy undertaken by the government.
For example, when Netanyahu first
instituted the 10-month settlement freeze she condemned him for caving in to
American pressure. Yet when he refused to renew the freeze she accused him of
undermining the US-Israel relationship.
Many Israelis also resented her
rabid denunciations of the government while visiting the United
Had she emulated Netanyahu, who while in opposition went out of
his way to praise the government when it initiated acts which were clearly
justified, she would have earned the esteem of most Israelis.
has the opportunity to present a constructive opposition. She should be
selective about what she opposes and unhesitatingly support, endorse and
encourage the government to act in areas which she recognizes promote the
However, she is faced with a major handicap. With only
eight seats, the party lacks talented MKs who she can appoint as members of a
shadow cabinet, an important element in the role of a traditional opposition.
But despite this, she must allocate portfolios, and in contrast to Livni, who
acted as though Kadima was her personal fiefdom, seek to engage her party
colleagues in a coordinated and collective effort to act as watchdogs to monitor
the activities of the government.
In relation to the issue of
substituting the Tal Law and extending national service for haredim
(ultra-Orthodox), she must be constructive and only condemn the government if it
fails to fulfill its pledge to move in the direction it committed itself to or
merely proposes a politically expedient cosmetic solution which would retain
exemptions in order to appease the haredim.
Likewise, in the area of
electoral reform she should assume a positive role, especially in relation to
changes designed to promote a two- or three-party structure rather than the
current multi-party system which enables the small, one-dimensional parties to
extort governments to unfairly promote their selfish sectional
In fact, if Netanyahu and present Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz
demonstrate that they are genuine in their efforts to bring about such important
and far-reaching reforms, she should seriously consider becoming a partner to
such a process.
AS LEADER of the opposition, Yacimovich will by law be
privy to important national security issues. While she may differ and oppose
particular aspects of the government’s policies toward the Palestinians and the
United States, she should set aside political expediency and demonstrate full
support when the government undertakes initiatives that she recognizes will
promote the national interest.
If she does, she will be appreciated by
the public and may succeed in restoring the shattered image of the Labor Party
and establishing the foundations for enabling it to regain its role as an
Indeed, should the international situation become
more perilous, she should even consider joining the government, at least
temporarily, as a demonstration of national unity.
Yacimovich also faces
another hurdle. The Israeli public has, by and large, detached itself from the
influence of the delusional left. There is a broad centrist majority, including
all the major Israeli political parties, which believes that when the Arabs
choose a leader who is genuinely committed to peace, Israel will come to an
accommodation with the Palestinians.
She must therefore convince Israelis
that the Zionist component of the Labor Zionist party has been restored to its
original position of priority. To ensure that, she must distance her party from
any association with post-Zionist and marginal left-fringe groups who should find
their natural habitat in a party like Meretz or even further to the left in
parties which are not represented in the Knesset.
The success of Labor as
an effective and constructive opposition party should be welcomed by the
majority of Israelis of all political persuasions, as it would encourage
national stability and reintroduce a healthy opposition without which democracy
The writer’s website can be viewed at
www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at