Israel today is a strong country. Amid many external and domestic challenges, its economy, defense forces and democracy remain resilient.
Nevertheless, many of the grievances I set out to fight when I was first elected to the Labor Party leadership in 2005 – and since I was appointed deputy prime minister and defense minister – remain today as valid as they were then. In certain areas, problems have become worse.
Israel’s economy is strong, but too many of its citizens are poor. Anyone who is familiar with my political views knows that the issue of social justice has always been close to my heart. Therefore, it pains and frustrates me that year after year OECD reports show that about one-fifth of our people live below the poverty line. Many are barely able to afford a daily hot meal for their children.
For a thriving country such as ours, this is unacceptable.
As head of the organization of Trade Unions, the Histadrut, as an MK, minister and party leader, I have consistently stood by those citizens and children who are left behind.
I do not believe in settling merely for small incremental steps forward in a neoliberal context that pull increasingly larger segments of the middle class backward.
For almost four decades the economy has been strong, but too many citizens are weak. My conviction is that while entrepreneurship and competition are important, where the market fails, the state must take responsibility.
Israel’s democracy is strong. It is a country that hosts a kaleidoscopic multitude of cultures, minorities, civil society organizations, media channels and political parties. Nevertheless, there is a consistent erosion in the legitimacy of state institutions such as the Supreme Court and the army, as well as a vilification of civil society groups and organizations. The government not only tolerates these trends, but often actively supports them. The term “left wing” – my political camp, the camp of those who have built the country and are a vibrant part of its heart and soul – has become a curse in our society.
This is trickle-down hatred from the Prime Minister’s Office to the people. While wealth rarely trickles down, hate certainly does. Undermining Israel’s pluralism, freedom of thought and freedom of speech poses a serious threat to our democracy, especially such a multicultural society that faces so many geopolitical challenges.
In that context, relations with the Palestinians have been deteriorating ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped into office. The coalition I was part of in 2006 ended the Second Intifada, concluded security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and led the most progressive efforts at Palestinian economic and institution-building, in tandem with leading peace talks on a final status agreement. The governing coalition is playing a dangerous game in believing they can dismiss the Palestinian issue.
That is wrong. The partnership between the Palestinian security apparatus, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) cannot be assumed to last forever without taking viable steps toward political progress. The passivity and ignorance of the current government is, thus, diametrically opposed to our own security interests.
The Palestinians, as I have reiterated many times, will not give up on self-determination. Two years ago I forwarded my plan for peace with the Palestinians, in which I outlined what a future deal might realistically look like. It is not going to be easy to negotiate or implement, but instead of preparing the ground on both sides for it, Netanyahu’s coalition unnecessarily pours oil into the fire, using discourse and policies that increase tensions on the ground.
Certainly Netanyahu is not the root of all that is bad.
And surely he believes he’s acting in the best interest of the state and the people of Israel. But the time has come for him to realize that he has reached a dead end as prime minister. The widening rifts in our society deeply trouble me, be it religious vs. secular, Right vs.
Left, periphery vs. center, poor vs. rich or Mizrahim vs. Ashkenazim. Netanyahu has not shown the ability or any particular interest in mending those fences. Actually, the state of affairs seems to benefit him politically.
Our economy, democracy and geopolitics as a whole, have compelled me to announce my candidacy for the leadership of the Labor Party. I have the experience.
I have served as Israel’s most veteran member of Knesset, in national and local politics, in foreign and security policy and in economics. I have a clear agenda for social justice and peace.
Most importantly, however, I am the only one who has the ability to break through to the camp of the center-left in Israel, to bring it new voters, and eventually unseat Netanyahu as prime minister. My personal background and the example I have set in my conduct in office assures voters that, if elected, I will do my utmost to bring our people back together.
The only way for the center-left camp to defeat Netanyahu is to win over new communities who traditionally vote for Likud. We must recognize that the old elites of the Labor Party have made many mistakes that led to the estrangement of entire segments of society, mainly consisting of Mizrahim and people from the social periphery, who could be the greatest beneficiaries of the left-wing agenda of social justice and peace. I proved myself capable of bringing these very people from the Likud into the Labor Party in 2006.
Current party leaders, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, have done remarkably well in the last elections and could have led the country much better than Netanyahu.
However, their achievements also marked the maximum potential that the center-left currently has realized.
In order to go beyond the 24 seats that Labor won in 2015 and the 30 seats won by Likud, new voters from the Right must be brought into our camp. I have done just that in the past. In 2006, the Labor party got seven seats more than Netanyahu’s Likud. Traditional voters of Likud all across the country came to the Labor Party.
Our camp is full of talent and vision. But only if the Labor Party actually wins the elections can these be translated into policies. I have proven to be the only leader in the history of the Israeli Labor Party who managed to bring the lower percentiles of society to support Labor. I am by now also the most experienced candidate the party has. I am therefore convinced that I can be the one to lead the center-left back to power, and put the State of Israel on the right path.Amir Peretz is the most veteran Member of Knesset. He is a former deputy prime minister, defense minister and minister for environmental protection. He is also the former leader of the opposition and chair of the Labor Party, as well as head of the organization of Trade Unions, the Histadrut, and mayor of his hometown, Sderot.