Can she lead? Shelly Yacimovich and the Labor party leaders

Yacimovich’s admirers support her because of her clear expression of positions on issues, and her incredible track record as MK.

Shelly Yacimovich (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shelly Yacimovich
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Last Friday’s Haaretz magazine carried a lengthy interview with MK Shelly Yacimovich. In it, Yacimovich detailed her opposition to excessive privatization, personified by the tycoons, and her belief that the Jewish settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria is “neither a sin nor a crime” since it was originally based on a widespread consensus that included the Labor Party, and is not to blame for the shortage of resources to relieve social injustices in society.
The unusual combination of a social-democratic position on one issue, and a pro-settler position on another resulted in a good deal of criticism from friends and foes alike. However, the truth is that Yacimovich is not alone in holding a medley of positions that do not necessarily tally with each other – at least not in traditional ideological terms.
For example, one of Yacimovich’s most vociferous critics, the economic commentator Nehemia Strassler, is an outspoken dove when it comes to the future of the territories and the Jewish settlements, but advocates a free economy and minimal government intervention – on the surface a complete mirror image of Yacimovich’s positions. Ironically, both Yacimovich and Strassler are identified as lefties by the Right. If one adds further issues to the equation – such as religion and state, the status of minorities, or that of foreign workers and refugees – one would discover that there is an infinite number of combinations.
While I agree with Yacimovich on some issues and disagree on others, I think there is a lot of hypocrisy in the attacks on her. All the positions she expressed in her interview are legitimate, though whether they add up to a coherent social-democratic ideology, as she claims, is not at all certain. This is relevant since Yacimovich is a leading contestant in the approaching Labor Party leadership contest, and the registered members of the party, who will be voting in the primaries on September 12, will have to decide, on the basis of what she said in the interview, as well as what she failed to talk about – such as the status of the country’s Arab citizens, and the peace process – whether this is really the direction they would like to see the party take.
Most of Yacimovich’s admirers support her because of her clear positions on social and economic issues, and her incredible track record as an MK in the past five years – especially the numerous social bills she authored. But is this enough?
There is more to leading a party than holding positions popular with the majority of party members, and being a superb MK. As a matter of fact, most party leaders have been pretty mediocre MKs. The question is also whether the potential leader has organizational and administrative experience (Yacimovich has none), whether he/she is able to contend in a balanced and meaningful manner with the rapid succession of issues on the national agenda, and last but not least, whether he/she is able to attract voters who are not traditional voters for the party. On this last point, Yacimovich’s interview might turn out to be an asset if she is elected as Labor’s next leader.
Personally I prefer what Amram Mizna has to offer. As mayor of Haifa and as acting mayor of Yeroham, he proved his commitment to public welfare in general and education in particular. While advocating a change in the country’s socioeconomic priorities, he is aware that a declaration of war on the tycoons could be counterproductive. His 30-year service in the IDF, reaching the rank of major-general, resulted in his intimate familiarity with the country’s security concerns, with the security implications of the continued occupation of the territories, as well as with the potential dangers inherent in the two-state solution, of which he is an active advocate.
Unlike Yacimovich, Mizna has a wealth of experience in organization and administration, his reactions to the succession of issues that made headlines in recent months – including the social protest and the recent security events in the South – have been sensitive, measured and in keeping with his general positions. But most important of all, opinion polls show that among all the candidates for the Labor Party leadership, he is most likely to maximize Labor’s electoral potential.
The writer is a member of the Labor Party, and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.