(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog’s decision to run for the
Labor Party leadership is the best news this embattled and dispirited party has
had in a long time. Indeed, given that recent polls have Labor sinking to six
seats in the next Knesset elections, Labor has been very short of anything
remotely resembling a positive development since mistakenly joining Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition.
Labor has lost its way, and
party chairman Ehud Barak is not the person to lead it back to electoral
success. Labor needs a leader with a firm voice and a clear direction, and
Barak, as shown in his pathetic zigzagging last week over the loyalty oath for
non-Jews wishing to become citizens, provides neither.
Herzog called it
right: The decision to force a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic
state on non-Jews (and not all would-be citizens) reflects, as he told Army
Radio, the “whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society. The overall
picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the State
of Israel. There has been a tsunami of measures that limit rights.”
you don’t have to be a card-carrying leftist to see the danger of the loyalty
oath. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, whose loyalty to the Land of Israel is
unquestionable, also spoke out against the measure, arguing that the proposal
brought no benefits and “could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an
effort to emphasize the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel.”)
BARAK STAKED his, and the Labor Party’s future on a partnership with Netanyahu.
Now, 18 months down the road, it’s becoming clear that all the talk of Netanyahu
truly being ready to make a historic compromise with the Palestinians is just
talk. The prime minister’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a
Jewish state as a condition for extending the settlement freeze for another two
months is a feeble attempt on his part to shift the blame for a breakdown in the
peace process to the Palestinians. Netanyahu, it seems, is not prepared to pay
the territorial price of a two-state solution.
In this situation, there
is no point in Labor staying in the government. In fact, there have been
numerous times when Labor should have left, the latest being Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman’s embarrassing speeches at the United Nations last month, in
which he basically called for the expulsion of Israel’s Arab
Netanyahu’s limp response to an address by his foreign minister
which totally undermined the government’s official position, followed by his
support for the racist loyalty oath, should make it abundantly clear to anyone
who professes to support the values of the Labor movement that there is no place
for Labor in a government headed by Netanyahu and heavily influenced by
Barak’s argument that Labor can lead Netanyahu toward peace no
longer holds water. At the beginning of this government’s term, with Netanyahu’s
Bar-Ilan speech and maybe as recently as his own speech to the UN, in which he
reaffirmed his determination to reach a two-state solution, there was hope that
Netanyahu had thrown off his ideological shackles and was prepared to seek a
The events of the past few weeks, unfortunately, have shown that
Netanyahu has returned to the Bibi of old. The loyalty oath brings back memories
of his racist 1996 election slogan “Bibi is good for the Jews,” while his
refusal to extend the settlement freeze is reminiscent of the way he
successfully used settlement building to torpedo any chance of revitalizing the
Oslo process during his first term. The decision to announce a building tender
for new housing in east Jerusalem at the end of last week casts further doubts
on Netanyahu’s sincerity when it comes to the peace process.
Herzog has thrown down his marker, he must immediately work to change the Labor
Party’s constitution, that has the next leadership elections scheduled for 2012.
Labor cannot wait that long.
Herzog should also resign his cabinet
portfolio and join the other Labor MKs on the backbenches who want to see the
party leave Netanyahu’s coalition.
By leaving the government, Herzog
won’t bring about its immediate collapse, but it will be the first sign that the
coalition is beginning to crumble.
Labor needs a spell in opposition to
reinvigorate itself and shape a new message to take to the voters.
Kadima siphoning off the center and the center-right vote, Labor needs to return
to its social-democratic roots and tack leftward, offering a comprehensive
vision, both diplomatically and economically.
This will be no easy task,
but Israel is in desperate need of a social-democratic party that will close the
ever-widening gaps between the haves and the have-nots, as well as one which
will snuff out the “whiffs of fascism” Herzog has detected. The disturbing poll
in this weekend’s Yediot Aharonot
, which showed that only 63 percent of the
Jewish population believe that non-Jewish (i.e. Arab) citizens should have the
right to vote, shows that the lurch to the far Right is not confined to the
country’s political margins.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.