Reality Check: Why is Labor still in gov't?

There is no justification for the party to stay in the current coalition, led by a man who has no vision for this country’s future.

June 7, 2010 06:31
4 minute read.
The cabinet convenes

cabinet meeting barak 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Now that Ehud Barak has lost his mantle as the responsible adult in the cabinet following last week’s flawed flotilla raid, there is no further justification – if indeed there was ever a real case – for the Labor Party to remain in this government.

In little over a year since he took office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has succeeded, as Mossad head Meir Dagan told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week, in gradually turning Jerusalem “from an asset to the United States to a burden.”

Closer to home, Israel does not have so many friends in the region that it can be afford to be cavalier about losing any of them, and yet Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Danny Ayalon have proven determined to play into the hands of the Islamists in Ankara, providing them with no shortage of excuses to downgrade ties with Israel.

Resorting to his tried and tested technique of scaremongering the public, Netanyahu last week defended the botched raid not by addressing the issues directly involved, but by raising instead his doomsday specter of an Iranian port in Gaza. And then for good measure, to encourage the backs-against-the-wall mentality of the public, he accused the international community of “hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment.”

Not to be outdone in refusing to accept any form of self-criticism, Interior Minister Eli Yishai then unimaginatively took to the airwaves to accuse Israel’s critics of anti-Semitism. In other countries, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel; here it’s claims of anti-Semitism.

OUR LEADERS’ refusal to contemplate how Israel’s actions reverberate internationally is severely damaging to the national interest. Our feuding with Turkey not only affects Israelis looking for a cheap summer holiday, but pushes our once strategic ally further and further into the arms of Syria and Iran.

On a wider front, international disquiet at the use of “disproportionate force,” to quote French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a personal friend of Netanyahu and certainly no anti-Semite, is leading to growing diplomatic isolation. This is more dangerous than the prospect of aid cargo making its way to the Gaza Strip.

In the past week or so, the country has suffered two major diplomatic blows due to the breakdown in trust between Jerusalem and its Western allies, particularly Washington. Firstly, the US joined the other 188 member nations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in adopting a call for placing Israel’s nuclear facilities under international supervision, the first time this clause has been accepted in the NPT’s 40-year existence. And then last week, because of the flotilla imbroglio, the UN postponed a debate on tightening sanctions on Iran.

ISRAEL IS not just losing allies among the international community. In a perceptive essay in the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart castigated the American Jewish establishment for its support of Israel at any price. He argued that AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents and the Anti-Defamation League only reflected the views of the Orthodox, right-wing constituency in the American Jewish community, leading to a situation in which fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals, the majority of US Jewry, are Zionists. Or as Beinart puts it: “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

To reverse this situation of declining international support on the one hand and the alienation of much of Diaspora Jewry on the other, Israel needs a change of leadership. We have a prime minister who is treated, at best, with suspicion by his foreign peers and a foreign minister who has to be hidden from public view during international crises.

Barak dragged the Labor Party into this government under the argument that it would act as a moderating factor and thereby ensure the continuation of negotiations with the Palestinians. In reality, it seems that Barak’s only real interest in Labor sitting in government is that it ensures his continued occupancy of the Defense Ministry.

Barak’s security achievements are second to none but, as recent events have proved, he too is not flawless. The future of the State of Israel is not solely dependent on Barak remaining as defense minister. There is no justification for Labor to stay in a government that is led by a prime minister intent only on his own political survival and who has no vision for a better future for the country and whose senior coalition partners want, in the case of Shas, to drag the country back to the Middle Ages or, in the case of Israel Beiteinu, to annul the citizenship of one-fifth of its population.

If the Labor Party is ever to have any chance of a return to power, its first move has to be to leave this government, the sooner the better.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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