Think About It: Labor’s uncertain future

There are several reasons I wouldn’t join Blue and White, though I wish this party much success in the coming elections.

By
June 11, 2019 14:54
AVI GABBAY (center) and his Labor colleagues celebrate on primary night

AVI GABBAY (center) and his Labor colleagues celebrate on primary night. (photo credit: FLASH90)

 
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The other day, in the rather empty Knesset building, I bumped into MK Meir Cohen, one of my favorite MKs in Blue and White. In the course of a short conversation, I mentioned that I am a member of the party that seems to be in danger of disappearing – Labor. Cohen responded by saying that I am welcome to join Blue and White. I didn’t reply but thought in my heart: not on your life.

There are several reasons I wouldn’t join Blue and White, though I wish this party much success in the coming elections. The first is that though I believe Israel could benefit no end from having Blue and White’s four leaders at the helm (my favorite is Gabi Ashkenazi), in light of their solidity, basic decency, moderation and absence of any populist or authoritarian mannerisms, none of the four leaders is a declared social democrat in his economic and social beliefs, or his proposals for tackling economic and social problems. In fact, they have all failed to express any clear statements on these issues, and at least one of them – Yair Lapid – sounds very much like a neoliberal of sorts.

The second reason I do not see myself as part of Blue and White is that I believe that its most important task is to attract moderate right-wingers and members of the National-Religious camp, not members of the Zionist Left. Unfortunately, so far, Blue and White has not changed the balance between the Center/Left camp and the Right/religious camp: the Labor Party (formerly the Zionist Union) lost 18 seats to Blue and White – and not a single one to the Likud, thus merely weakening the social democratic component of the Center/Left camp in favor of some amorphous “moderation.”

I would also dare say that candidates Nos. 7-24 on the Labor list to the 21st Knesset were far more experienced and focused than candidates nos. 17-35 on the Blue and White list, and the general political picture would have been far healthier and more optimistic if the balance between Blue and White and Labor after the April election had been something like 26:15 rather than 35:6.


WHICH BRINGS me back to the sad state of the Labor Party.

At the outset I would argue that I do not believe that the Labor Party has become irrelevant any more than the National-Religious camp, which received only five seats (including the Kahanists) in the last elections.

The problems faced by Labor, on the one hand, and the National-Religious splinter parties, on the other, are different. Labor must redefine its electorate, and how it sells its ideological merchandise to the public, while the National-Religious community must decide where it stands between the old National-Religious Party and the current impossible combination of moderates, messianists and hardalim (those groups that have drawn closer to the haredim in terms of religious beliefs and practices).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s success in getting Bayit Yehudi, National Union and Otzma Yehudit to run together in the elections to the 21st Knesset obliges the more moderate forces within this group to define their attitude toward the Kahanists and toward Bezalel Smotrich’s rather weird statement about replacing the current Israeli law with that which prevailed at the times of Kings David and Solomon (he wasn’t talking of what is known today as “Hebrew law”).

The Labor Party Conference will be meeting next Wednesday to decide about how the next leader of the party and the list for the 22nd Knesset will be elected. The choice is between elections taking place in the party conference, and primaries with the participation of some 60,000 registered members of the party.


I admit that back in 2017 I contributed to the major mistake of electing Avi Gabbay as leader. I was convinced at the time that Gabbay could give the party a positive face-lift, but I was wrong – I didn’t really know very much about the man or his plans. I am not sure whether this time I will be able to make a better choice, or whether I have any idea as to who can perform the necessary changes.

Of one thing I am sure: the problem is not in Labor’s basic social democratic, economic and social ideology, or its belief that even if, currently, it is highly unlikely that any sort of permanent solution can be reached with the Palestinians, annexation of the West Bank and a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip would be ruinous to the future of Israel.

I feel very strongly that many of the major economic and social problems that Israel faces cannot possibly be resolved by means of “free market” forces (which are anything but free). The chronic shortage of social housing and inexpensive housing for the younger generation, the effect of the digitalization of banking and other services on senior citizens (a continuously growing segment of the population), the catastrophic situation on the roads and of public transportation, the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the educational system (especially the nonreligious section of the system), and the gradual collapse of the health services available to the non-wealthy sections of the Israeli population are only a few of the problems that can be resolved only by means of a carefully planned combination of public activity and private initiative.

De facto most of the various components of Netanyahu’s previous government and of the government he hopes to form after the September elections accept this approach, and are among the victims of Netanyahu’s neoliberalism. The problem is that due to historical reasons and a lot of poisonous delegitimization on the Likud’s part in general and by Netanyahu himself in particular, Labor’s chances of releasing itself from the cobweb sometimes seem almost hopeless. The hostility of radical, left-wing Mizrahi intellectuals, such as Dr. Hani Zubida, who broadcasts a provocative talk show three times a week on the Knesset Channel, doesn’t make the task any simpler.

Gabbay’s willingness to consider what looked like a desperate, last-minute attempt by Netanyahu to enlist the Labor Party to enable him to form a government in the 21st Knesset didn’t do Labor’s image much good either. Gabbay repeatedly stated during the April election campaign that he wouldn’t join a government headed by a person about to be indicted on criminal offenses, and his agreement to talk to Netanyahu about the offer was thus the epitome of lack of credibility.

Following the April elections I was hoping that Labor would either find itself in a Blue and White-led government, or have four years to elect a new leader, and set about putting its house in order. The question now is whether Labor, under a new leader to be elected in the beginning of July, will manage to regain some of the votes it lost to Blue and White in April, or simply fail to pass the qualifying threshold.

I hope that it is the first possibility that will be realized, and that the party will at long last get on the right path to recovery.

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