Rattling the Cage: Change radically, or die

The Labor Party should start by living up to its name.

February 11, 2009 20:53
4 minute read.
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )


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From my Zionist Left viewpoint, the good news of the election, the one reason for hope, was the Labor Party's disastrous showing under the leadership of Ehud Barak. He turned Labor into a war party and nothing else. Between his policies and personality, Barak emptied Labor of its social democratic character and vision of peace. He tore the heart and mind out of Labor, and now, after getting what it deserved in the election, Labor's back is to the wall. It either has to change radically or die. For the Zionist Left, then, this is a moment of opportunity. We have to become a movement again with principles, with leaders who can inspire, and with the goal of winning power and leading the country in a new direction, and to do this, we need a big political party. The only one we've got is Labor; what's needed is not to replace it or rename it, but to renew it. THE LABOR PARTY should start by living up to its name instead of shaming it. The worst economic problem of our age is that labor/work no longer promises people a decent life. Working people are growing poorer by the year - and the Labor Party has nothing to offer them. The party has to give real, doable solutions for the roughly two-thirds of Israelis who work for a living yet are still what can fairly be called "have-nots." I've suggested a few ideas. One is higher taxes on the rich. Another is massive government wage subsidies for low-wage workers. A third is progressive state benefits and fees so the rich would, for instance, get less in child allowances and pay more for car licenses than the poor, just as the rich now pay higher income taxes and health insurance than the poor. I'm sure there are other ideas to bring working people out of poverty, to close the gigantic income gap that's opened up here in the past generation. I'd like to hear the leaders of an entity that calls itself the "Labor Party" suggest one or two such ideas. In Tuesday's election, Israel's working poor - the Jewish working poor, anyway - voted for Yisrael Beitenu, Shas and Likud. The first offered them hatred of Arabs. The second offered them hatred of Arabs, welfare, and old-time religion. The third offered them no welfare, no religion, only hatred of Arabs in a relatively muted, sophisticated, accepted form. Shouldn't there be one major party that offers the working poor better wages and benefits instead of welfare, and decency toward Arabs instead of hatred? This is another issue for a major party representing the Zionist Left today: anti-fascism. The attitude toward Israeli Arabs that Avigdor Lieberman promotes is truly sinat hinam, baseless hatred. Israeli Arabs are a powerless, harmless, mistreated, increasingly frightened minority, and the Labor Party has to stand up for their civil rights, stand up for democracy and take the offensive against fascism - to begin with, by not being afraid to use the word. Fascism is what we're talking about. A major party of the Zionist Left also has to stand against settlements and against the occupation - whether from the inside, as in the West Bank, or the outside, as with Gaza. It has to stand for peace with Syria in return for the Golan Heights. It has to oppose war as anything but the absolute last option. It has to oppose the idea that we can bomb our enemies, including Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, into disarming. TO THOSE who say all this sounds too left-wing for the voters, I say: Look where Labor got by shifting to the Right, by focusing strictly on Barak's skill at making war: 13 seats. How much worse can Labor fail now by shifting Left? What does it have to lose? A merger is needed in the Zionist Left. Not Labor and Kadima, which is an economically conservative party that talks peace and makes war, but Labor and Meretz. The Zionist Left needs a party that can take power, and to that end, Meretz (which got my vote on Tuesday) should throw in with a new, reconstituted, social democratic, pro-peace Labor Party. Who should lead it? I would vote for MK Sheli Yehimovich. She's charismatic, she believes, she's young, she embodies change. She seems to be what I used to think Tzipi Livni was, before the war in Gaza. There are others in Labor, not to mention in Meretz and beyond, who represent the new direction I've tried to describe: MK Avishai Braverman, newly-elected MK Daniel Ben-Simon, Histadrut leader Ofer Eini. For elder statesman, I would vote for Amram Mitzna, a Labor leader who was ahead of his time. For the past eight years, Israel has been marching further and further to the Right; the three big parties, Likud, Kadima and Labor, were all, in practice, right-wing, and they were joined by a fourth, Yisrael Beitenu, which is out-and-out fascistic. The only left-wing parties in Israel anymore are Meretz and the Arab slates. This was a shattering election. Something new has to be born. What's needed is a big Zionist party that offers a vision of economic justice, civil rights and peace. For the Labor Party, for the Zionist Left as a whole, a moment of opportunity has come.

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