Reality Check: When politics gets personal

If Peretz doesn’t join the Barak-inspired Democratic Union, he risks leading Labor to political extinction.

July 29, 2019 10:26
4 minute read.
Reality Check: When politics gets personal

Amir Peretz (R) and Orly Levy Abecassis (L). (photo credit: ROY ALIMA/ FLASH 90)

Personal animosity does strange things to politicians: it makes them act against their better interests. Take the example of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and New Right leader Ayelet Shaked. Shaked has made no secret of her desire, one day, to become part of the Likud, while Netanyahu is under no illusions as to Shaked’s electoral attractiveness.
In an interview over the weekend, Shaked took great pains not to deny that she saw her eventual future in the Likud, noting that if a person wants to lead the country “apparently the place to do so is from the Likud.” And despite leading a party that is fighting for some of the same voters as the Likud, Shaked took great care during the interview not to attack Netanyahu personally.
Shaked is the darling of the Right: ideologically sound, well-spoken and reassuringly normal. When she was justice minister, there was no talk of restoring Torah law and returning to the days of King David. Instead, she focused her efforts on appointing conservative figures to the Supreme Court as part of a long-term strategy to change the face of Israeli society.
There is no real ideological divide between Shaked and Netanyahu preventing her from joining the Likud. If Shaked were placed in a comfortable slot high up on the Likud list, she would definitely draw voters away from parties to the Right of the Likud, severely weakening them. This, of course, would make Netanyahu far less vulnerable to the demands of smaller parties were he to be charged with forming a coalition after polling day. And yet, Netanyahu has repeatedly ensured that for as long as he is leader, the door to the Likud is firmly bolted in the face of Shaked.
Shaked steadfastly refuses to discuss the reasons for this animosity on the side of Netanyahu. Sara Netanyahu’s reported phone call to the wife of Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz – in which she asked the rabbi’s wife to implore her husband not to cede leadership of a joint New Right-Bayit Yehudi alliance to Shaked – does, however, provide an insight into how deep the antagonism runs.
In April, this refusal to bring Shaked on board cost Netanyahu dearly. The fact that the New Right just failed to cross the electoral threshold eventually meant that Netanyahu was unable to form a right-wing coalition, plunging the country into a second election. At least Naftali Bennett has woken up to reality and realized that if he wants his party to succeed, he has to give way to Shaked and cede the leadership to her.

BUT NETANYAHU is not the only politician who has let personal dislike override political calculations. Labor Party leader Amir Peretz’s stubborn decision not to enter the broad Democratic Union left-wing alliance with Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party will provide the final nail in Labor’s coffin.
There is plenty of bad blood between Peretz and Barak, the catalyst behind the creation of the Democratic Union. Barak’s curt dismissal of Peretz as defense minister in 2007 after Barak recaptured control of Labor was the low point in their relationship, from which it has never recovered. Unfortunately, this bad blood between the two men has blinded Peretz to today’s political reality.
In a historical irony, Peretz has repeated Barak’s tactics of 1999. Peretz’s alliance with Orly Levy-Abecassis’ Gesher Party is similar to the coalition Barak created with the original Gesher Party, headed by Orly’s father and Netanyahu nemesis David Levy. Back then, this move worked and helped Barak secure the premiership.
Times, though, have changed. Peretz’s belief that his teaming up with Levy-Abecassis will bring right-wing voters into Labor is nothing but a pipe dream. With a strong centrist Blue and White Party running the Likud very close, former right-wing voters have an obvious place to voice their discontent with Netanyahu’s personal conduct as prime minister. There’s also no evidence that those Mizrahi voters who have always refrained from voting Labor for historical/cultural reasons will suddenly shrug off their dislike of this establishment party just because it’s headed by Mizrahi politicians.
Moreover, Gesher failed to pass the electoral threshold in April and Levy-Abecassis herself lacks the strong personal backing her father had in the last century. Despite this unimpressive political performance, Peretz promised Gesher three slots in the top 10 of Labor’s Knesset list, pushing proven Labor politicians down into unrealistic slots, alienating much of what’s left of Labor’s supporters. Labor MK Stav Shaffir’s sudden switch to the Democratic Union, and other leading Labor MK Itzik Shmuli’s public refusal to rule out a similar move clearly show which way the trend is going.
By Thursday, the deadline for registering party slates for September’s elections, Peretz has to swallow his pride and team Labor up with the Democratic Union. If he doesn’t, he faces going down in history as the man who led Labor to below the electoral threshold and political extinction.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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