Daniel Ben-Simon, a novice Labor Party MK, who was elected to head the Labor faction in the coalition, recently resigned that post. If one wants to know how far Labor has fallen, one needs look no further than to neophyte Ben-Simon, who was not only chosen to occupy the 11th spot on the Labor list, but also picked to be its chief manager.
The singular prerequisite for his exalted position was that he wrote for Ha'aretz. But his articles were generally mistaken when he analyzed virtually any subject on Israel - politics, personalities, foreign policy, economic welfare, you name it. I remember one encounter I had with Ben-Simon, who is a most likable individual; but likability is not a qualification to be a Knesset member.
We appeared on the same TV program, broadcast for a North American audience. It was 1999 and the assumption was that Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the popular chief of General Staff, would run for prime minister, challenging Binyamin Netanyahu. With absolute confidence, Ben-Simon told me the race would be between Lipkin-Shahak and Netanyahu, and most likely Lipkin-Shahak would win. Not having his alleged expertise, I told him that I was surprised by his bold assertion, sensing that he was completely out of touch with reality.
Lipkin-Shahak's potential candidacy gained no traction. He joined the disgraced former defense minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, on the new Center Party list that garnered a meager six seats. Ehud Barak, who was elected to head the Labor Party, defeated Netanyahu, and Lipkin-Shahak became the tourism minister.
Ben-Simon opposed Labor joining Netanyahu's present coalition, but then said: "The moment the party convention voted in favor [of joining], my resistance faded. I turned from an objector to one who obeys."
Such a statement is an indication that his supposed principled decision to step down from his leadership role was merely a vain attempt to excuse his long line of errant understandings of the political scene.
SO, IS it any wonder, with members like Ben-Simon, that Labor is on its deathbed, with the plugs being pulled out by his once revered leader, Ehud Barak, to whom he swore obedience? One should add the Labor cabinet pallbearers who willingly followed Barak into the grave - Isaac Herzog, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Matan Vilna'i, Avishay Braverman, Shalom Simhon, Orit Noked. The other Labor Knesset members, even with the rebellious talk of some of them, are still in the party, cohabiting with the openly bigoted Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai.
Where has Labor gone wrong? First of all, it has abandoned its ideological roots, not just politically, but personally. Barak amassed a fortune when he was out of office, cashing in on his military background. Why should anyone be shocked that he spent an exaggerated sum of money on an official trip to Paris when he lives in a $10 million penthouse? Worse, his extravagant excursions abroad are financed by the hard-earned shekels of the economically strapped Israeli worker. His apology for what he called "this glitch" only adds insult to injury, as does the lack of protest over such abuse by Barak's Labor cohorts.
Ben-Simon ostensibly walked away from his position within the Labor Party over the fact that Barak has yet to remove illegal settlements. It is not just continued settlement construction or the lack of removal of illegal ones that should be bothering Ben-Simon and his Labor cronies; it should also be the unwarranted demolition of Palestinian homes, the renegade behavior of too many settlers, a separate road system in the territories, the diversion of water from West Bank cities, towns and villages. Their silence in the face of such unethical behavior has made them complicit partners in crime.
Not only should unnecessary maltreatment of Palestinians trouble the Labor Party, but also its almost total disregard for an equitable economic and social system. The once socialist Labor Party has become a party of crass capitalists, with little if any concern for the other: the poor, foreign workers, Israeli Arabs, factory employees.
Labor used to herald its defense of the rights of the little guy. The Histadrut, even with its crass favoritism, still defended workers' rights. The unions have virtually ceased functioning, thanks to Haim Ramon, who, as secretary-general of the Histadrut and then a Labor Party stalwart, began his privatization putsch.
Once the staunch defender of minority rights, Labor stands idly by as the Israeli Arab community receives the scraps of the economic, educational and social pie. And, what about foreign workers and their children, threatened with expulsion at a moment's notice, even those who were born here and know no other country? Only on rare occasions, and usually after the fact, does anyone in Labor take up the cudgel and fight Eli Yishai and his prejudicial Shas comrades-in-arms over trying to expel these children.
Why is Labor not protesting the unspeakable treatment of Sudanese refugees? One does not ask these questions of Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi, National Union or even the Likud because their ideological worldview is basically xenophobic. They do not pretend to be universal and inclusive, as Labor does (and once was). I exclude Kadima because it's impossible to know what it stands for.
Labor no longer assumes a pretense of being anything but a clone of Likud. Ben-Simon's lack of both insight and foresight that characterized so much of his writing is standard for Labor, as it could not see the writing on the wall regarding the aftermath of the war in Gaza, that there would be an international investigation. How ironic that of all the cabinet ministers only former Likud prince Dan Meridor has called for a national committee of inquiry into the war.
What makes the demise of the Labor Party so tragic is that the Jewish state desperately needs a political entity like the one that navigated the country during its first 30 years of existence. With the exception of Meretz, which is too small to make any palpable difference in policy, there is no party to stand up for the disenfranchised and marginal segments of the population. However, Israel not only needs a fair-minded domestic policy, but also a rational foreign policy - not one that is subject to an excessive chauvinism that embraces expansionism and colonialism and disregards the international community, especially our friends.
Sadly, Labor is dead and gone. One can only hope that it resurrects, not to satisfy the self-serving and material cravings of its body, but to nourish its soul, so that it might help the Jewish state return to its spiritual roots as a "light unto the nations."