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Plastered all over the country are advertisements for the Labor Party, featuring its titular leader, Ehud Barak. Their intent is to tell us that while Barak may be unsympathetic, unpleasant, unhuggable and not "trendy," he is a leader. I am sure he will try to cash in on this message as the election is fast approaching, confident that his conduct of the war in Gaza proves his leadership skills.
Nevertheless, let me get this straight: Labor would have us vote for a man whose personality traits include a lack of empathy and likeability, someone who is aloof and out of touch. Leader or no leader, whoever designed this ad campaign must have a few loose screws.
The last thing I want in a prime minister is someone who doesn't identify with my problems, who is disagreeable, unapproachable and irrelevant. The only conclusion I can draw from this strategy is that Barak is indeed indifferent, odious and detached. Why on earth would he reinforce the worst stereotypes that much of the voting public already has of him? Based on what is written on those posters, I certainly would not entrust him to run the country again, even with his navigation of the army in these difficult times.
His opponent, Binyamin Netanyahu, possesses all these personality inadequacies, and then some, but unlike Barak, he is not stupid enough to advertise such character flaws. Of course, Netanyahu does have one distinct political advantage over virtually all other politicians in the country: while others lack some measure of integrity, Netanyahu lacks all integrity, which essentially means that he might abandon his right-wing tendencies if he sensed that the public wanted him to forge an agreement with the Palestinians and reach an accord with the Syrians.
After all, he did shake Yasser Arafat's hand at the Wye plantation.
But then again, who would vote for someone who casts aside principles he espouses and commitments he makes - as he did when he violated the agreements he concluded at Wye, immediately constructing Har Homa. Netanyahu provides a dreary alternative even to the unappealing Barak. And yet, we remember Bibi and Ehud's failed terms as prime minister.
And here comes Tzipi Livni, the whistle-clean candidate, the ethical opposite of Barak and Netanyahu, who both have been under investigation - Barak for campaign shenanigans and Netanyahu for using public money for private exploits. But being Ms. Clean is not enough to thrust Livni into the prime minister's office. Since she heads her party in the coming election - the party that was charged with forming a government - she should be running on Kadima's achievements.
One problem: There haven't been any. She has nothing to run on; just as Barak, who heads the junior party in the present coalition, has nothing to run on; and just as Netanyahu, who headed a dispirited opposition with his measly 12 mandates, has nothing to run on.
As far as the average Israeli "Joe the Plumber" is concerned, no matter which of the big three wins the election, they're all a bunch of losers.
I KNOW what Likud opposes. I have no idea what it stands for. The same is true for Labor and Kadima. I know what they are against, but not what they are for. And I cannot stomach the fact that their entire campaign strategies are based on attacking the other guy. Tell me what are your positions, not only on security and peace negotiations, but on social issues, economic policy, educational initiatives, infrastructure, matters of religion and state, the status of the Supreme Court, attitudes toward minorities, environmental concerns - to name but a few of the pressing challenges that the country faces.
One thing about the smaller parties, from Meretz to Shas, from the Arab lists to Israel Beiteinu - the voter knows exactly what their priorities are. What you see is what you get. Even Moshe Feiglin clearly tells us where he wants the country to go.
I have already made my decision for which party to vote - Meretz, as if the reader didn't know, but at the same time I am hoping for a resurgent Labor Party which should be Meretz's natural ally.
How can Labor resurrect itself? By returning to its historical roots. So many people suffered under Netanyahu's tenure in the Finance Ministry. The gap between the haves and the have-nots used to be one of the narrowest in the Western world, but now is one of the widest. The Labor Party has to again talk about social Zionism, an equitable distribution of the financial pie, with the rich sharing their considerable wealth with those on the lower end of the economic scale.
Apologies to the Sephardi community, such as Barak extended when he last ran for prime minister because of years of neglect of North African Jews by the Labor Party during the height of its dominance, won't wash today. We need action, not empty rhetoric.
Further, the Histadrut needs an infusion of support from the Labor Party, as in days of old, so that this union conglomerate once again truly represents the needs of the workers. Learning from its mistakes, Labor must advance the raison d'etre for the existence of a Jewish state, to serve as an "ingathering of exiles," which essentially means integrating recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
Also, Labor has to again embrace the Israeli-Arab population, not only by providing money to Arab towns, Beduin encampments and Druse villages, but by providing social services, health care, economic opportunity and educational growth - equal to the Jewish population. More so, it must reject the anti-democratic calls to disqualify Israeli-Arab parties from participating in the elections.
As Labor once promised, monies expended over the Green Line to support the settlement enterprise must be redirected for infrastructure improvement, building roads, bridges, new schools, new industries, thus creating job opportunities.
Most important, the Labor Party should outline its diplomatic vision. It used to be the party that would leave no stone unturned in the quest for peace. What compromises is Labor willing to make to reach an accord with the Palestinians and the Syrians, even after the war? Will its political platform be indistinguishable from Kadima and Likud?
So far in this campaign, Likud and Kadima have demonstrated their ability to tell the voters what they oppose. "No" is their political answer to the country's challenges. People are hungry for something other than a party philosophy that will lead the country down a dead-end street. What they crave are leaders who can articulate their core values and principles, which are a reflection of their character, and that is why Labor's campaign is so objectionable. Now, more than ever, people are desperately seeking some idealism and hope. Nothing Pollyannaish - just a sense that our lives and our children's lives can and will be better than is presently the case, and that our future is guaranteed.
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