Political Affairs: Nothing left to do but try

Behind the scenes in the deal that brought Shaffir and Barak together with Meretz to form the Democratic Union

July 25, 2019 22:41
4 minute read.
Israel Democratic Party Ehud Barak, MK Stav Shaffir and Meretz Nitzan Horowitz of Democratic Camp

Israel Democratic Party's Ehud Barak, MK Stav Shaffir and Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz of the Democratic Camp. (photo credit: SPOKESPERSON FOR THE DEMOCRATIC CAMP)

There are many sins in politics for which politicians are forced to pay a price, and one of the worst is acting behind a political ally’s back.

That lesson should have been learned long ago by Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, who was first elected to the Knesset in 1988, alongside another neophyte politician named Benjamin Netanyahu.

Peretz negotiated with Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abecassis, with the blessing of the top Labor brass, who wanted a leading socioeconomic voice on their list. But he did not tell them before he signed the deal that part of the agreement was that no further mergers would be sought, and that the attempts to merge Labor, Meretz and former prime minister Ehud Barak’s party were dead.

Labor MK Stav Shaffir heard that devastating news not from Peretz, as she should have, but from the press. That news and how it was delivered helped persuade Shaffir to take action.

Shaffir was already emboldened by her surprise second-place finish in the July 2 Labor primary. The primary enabled her to focus on what she believes in: building a strong alternative on the Left that could remind Israel and the world about the values that she believes are being quashed daily by Netanyahu.

She received another surprise on July 6, when Barak decided to name his list the Israel Democratic Party. When informed of the party’s name by The Jerusalem Post that night, she said: “I’ve been using the term ‘Israeli Democratic Party’ for the last five years. I hope it will eventually describe the coalition of Blue and White, Labor, Barak and Meretz.”

The way Peretz behaved made Shaffir realize that she had a lot more in common with Barak and Meretz than with Gesher and Peretz. She decided she had to act independently to bring about the Democratic bloc that she desired.

On Saturday night, Shaffir told Channel 12’s Meet the Press program that she would even be willing to risk her own seat with Labor to bring the merger to fruition. But she still thought at the time that she could bring Labor into the deal.

On Sunday, Peretz convened Labor’s executive committee, an unelected group of Peretz’s cronies, to approve the deal with Gesher and set a date for the party convention, where it would come for final approval by thousands of elected Labor activists.

At Peretz’s behest, the date set for the convention is July 31, the night before the deadline to submit lists of candidates to the Central Elections Committee, and too late for the deal to be rejected and an agreement reached with Meretz and Barak instead.
Shaffir realized that the only way for the bloc to still be achieved is for her to bring it about herself and present it to Labor as a fait accompli. She decided that even without Labor, she belongs in the bloc and she had to try to build the bloc on the Left.

But bringing it about was not easy, due to the animosity between Meretz and Barak. When she first approached Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz about including herself in the deal, the response she received was that she was very welcome, but Barak was not.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej played an important part in making Barak kosher for Meretz. He wrote an article in Haaretz about what Barak needed to say to appease Arab voters angry that police opened fire on Arab protesters and killed 13 of them in October 2000 when he was prime minister. Barak followed Frej’s instructions to the letter.

Former Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On also played a key role behind the scenes in selling Barak to Meretz leaders who did not want him, in part because he made a business deal with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein after his conviction.

The agreement came about in two marathon overnight sessions of negotiations. The first night’s negotiations took place in the Tel Aviv home of Noa Rothman, a candidate on Barak’s list. The location was symbolic for Shaffir, because Rothman is a granddaughter of Yitzhak Rabin.

The final details on the list for the Knesset were hammered out by aides to Barak, Horowitz and Shaffir at the office of a law firm in Ramat Gan. The list will be changed if Labor ends up merging despite Peretz’s firm decision not to, if MK Itzik Shmuli defects from Labor, or if Tzipi Livni is willing to join.

One decision that helped close the deal was Barak agreeing to be tenth on the list. Barak asked to receive the top portfolio if the party enters a coalition, but then he gave up that demand.

The fact that they spoke seriously about the most left-wing Zionist party on the political map entering a coalition shows how seriously they believe in their chances of success.

For that to happen, Barak will have to stop attacking Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, as he did in a speech to Labor activists in Savion on Wednesday night, and instead, focus solely on Netanyahu.

Barak and Shaffir would have to harm Netanyahu’s image substantially to really change the electoral landscape. They also would have to refrain from fighting inside their political camp with Labor.

Labor officials were outraged by the behavior of Shaffir, whom they described using a word that, spelled in two different ways in Hebrew, means both “mediator” and “slaughterer.”

But sources close to Peretz said he knows that he can only blame himself, because finalizing the deal with Levy-Abecassis and killing chances of a large Left bloc behind Shaffir’s back was the original sin.

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