Deciding between Shelly and Amir

Peretz’s Israel and his frame of reference is not made up exclusively of secular, Ashkenazi youngsters and old-timers.

By
September 18, 2011 21:34
4 minute read.
Avoda Ivrit

Jewish Labor_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

Last Monday, I volunteered at one of the Labor Party polling stations in Jerusalem. During my shift I took note of several rather surprising voters: a traditional Ethiopian family, several families of Sephardi haredim, and a Russian family, one of whose members didn’t speak a word of Hebrew. Unlike most of the others who came to vote, these seemed quite detached, not really part of what was going on. They were apparently leftovers from the 22,000 people whose registration to the Labor Party was canceled due to irregularities.

Who registered them? Apparently Amir Peretz’s people.

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The fictitious registration of members is one of the main blemishes on Amir’s candidacy. “Everyone does it” is a common excuse for such conduct. Well, not everyone does it, and if Labor wants to embark on a new course this is one practice that must be eradicated.

I have known Amir since the late 1980s. At that time I was impressed with him as head of the Sderot local council. He knew every inhabitant in his town by name, and was familiar with the personal problems of each. At the time he was especially concerned with the integration of the Ethiopian immigrants who had settled in Sderot – this was several years before the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union. I was less impressed by his performance in subsequent positions.

In 2005 I supported Amir in the Labor Party leadership contest, but was disappointed with his decision to take the Defense Ministry in Olmert’s government.

I was absolutely convinced that after the Finance Ministry was denied him, he would insist on an enhanced Ministry of Labor and Welfare, but he was led to believe that it was unworthy of the leader of a central party to consider anything but Finance, Foreign Affairs or Defense. His choice was a fatal mistake.

And yet Amir’s ideology and heart are in the right place. He is a social democrat both in the social and economic senses, and an active peacenik. His Israel and his frame of reference is not made up exclusively of secular, Ashkenazi youngsters and old-timers, and Sephardim who have adopted the Western way of thinking and mannerisms. His Israel also includes religious Sephardim, Arabs who want to feel part of this country, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are willing to think pink, despite their traumatic red experience.

Unlike the other main Labor candidate Shelly Yacimovich, Amir is accessible. I remember a rather stormy telephone conversation with him about ten years ago, when he was still chairman of the Histadrut, with me yelling at him for closing down Ben-Gurion airport as part of the general strike, which prevented my leaving the country in time for an important meeting. He yelled back at me: “What sort of socialist are you?” To which I answered that the strike wasn’t about socialism, but rather a power struggle conducted by the strong workers’ committees.

We remained friends.

Before the first round of the primaries I expressed my reservations about Yacimovich being elected leader of the Labor Party. I find her apparent efforts to avoid relating in her public expressions to anything connected with the political process, to the Palestinians and to Israel’s Arab citizens (20% of the population!), disturbing.

While I appreciate her efforts to present herself as a patriot – there is no contradiction between social democracy and patriotism – I think one can easily cross the thin line that separates patriotism from chauvinism. I am not sure Shelly is always on the right side of this line.

I am also disturbed by Shelly’s attitude, which was reflected also in the rhetoric of her volunteers, who are a most impressive lot until they open their mouths about those who don’t support Shelly. Though she is certainly an impressive woman with an impressive parliamentary record, a bit of humility would do her good. Besides, she speaks of social democracy without really knowing a lot about its deeper meaning, or the history of social democracy in Israel.

And yet Shelly offers something new and refreshing, and might still prove to be an effective leader, despite her total lack of administrative and leadership experience.

She certainly attracts the youngsters, many of whom traditionally sit on the fence and just want to be left alone to do “their own thing.” A recent poll showed her leading the Labor Party to an impressive result if elections were held today – 22 Knesset seats, though one shouldn’t get carried away.

I haven’t yet decided who to vote for. All I can say is that I hope that whoever loses will help keep the party united, and on the right track.

The writer is a member of the Labor Party, and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.


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