Is it good for the Jews?

Barak’s decision to split was bad for the Labor Party, bad for the politicians’ image and the ethics of party politics – but ultimately good for Israel.

ehud barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ehud barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Long ago, when a political event would happen anywhere in the world, Jews would ask: “Is it good for us?” or in modern times “Is it good for Israel?” Apparently I am out of sync, because that was the only question not asked by the hundreds of reporters, analysts, interviewers, party leaders or just plain nudniks in the aftermath of Barak-gate.
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Yes, I know that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has an impossible character, that he is a catastrophe as a party leader and in general a man that people love to hate; I know that he has made, and will probably continue making huge political blunders; I also know that living in the Akirov towers in Tel-Aviv deserves capital punishment, as does being in cahoots with a known felon named Netanyahu; I know that splitting a party is abominable, (unless done by others such as Kadima MKs Tzipi Livni and Dalia  Itzik, former MK Haim Ramon, President Shimon Peres, and former prime minister Ariel Sharon -  to name a few.) I know that MK Eitan Cabel is delighted that Barak is out and that Amram Mitzna and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and Avishai Braverman and Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz and Ben-Simon et tutti quanti will jump at the chance to save the day and the Labor party.
I know all these things, and yet still I ask the obvious: Is Barak’s decision to leave the Labor party good or bad for Israel?
Israel’s political history has had more than its fair share of dramatic party splits – albeit mostly from the Labor party. The most famous was former prime minister Ben-Gurion’s decision in 1965 to leave the Mapai Party (Labor’s predecessor) and create Rafi, a new political party that failed in the polls. This split was bad for Israel, because it delayed the changing of the guard in the nation’s leadership. The fresh, young leaders, whom Ben-Gurion had groomed to take the reins in the political hot-seat, mistakenly joined him in Rafi. So that while Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Navon and others were essentially in political exile, the Old Guard stayed in power for almost ten more years.
On the other hand, when Moshe Dayan left the Labor party in 1977 and joined former prime minister Menachem Begin’s cabinet as Foreign Affairs Minister, it was good for Israel. Dayan’s condition for joining a Likud government was to launch of a peace initiative with Egypt; and indeed, it was Dayan who orchestrated Egypt’s former president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel – a move that triggered the peace agreements between the two countries.
In order to measure the impact of Barak’s move, the alternatives mustbe weighed. Politically, Barak was a dead man walking. In a couple ofmonths he would have been guillotined by the Labor Party. Partyprimaries would be decided upon, Barak would invariably be beaten, andthe new chairman of the party would in all likelihood choose to quitthe coalition. A new and certainly more extreme Defense Minister wouldbe appointed, meaning more bad news for Israel.
But the real difficulties lay in the alternatives facing Prime MinisterNetanyahu. He could have added more right-wing extremists to hiscabinet and lost the moderating, though limited influence of Labor. Once again, bad for Israel. Or he could have been forced to call newelections, in which the victor would almost certainly be IsraelBeiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman. Also bad for Israel.
So the most logical option was the one chosen by Barak and Netanyahu:Barak stays in the coalition, the Unity government survives, theexcellent symbiosis between these two politicians continues, Israel hasa good Defense Minister, and there still remains a chance of revivingthe peace process. The conclusion is clear: Barak’s move was bad forthe Labor Party, bad for the politicians’ image and the ethics of partypolitics – but ultimately good for Israel.
Those left behind in the Labor Party will have to comfort themselveswith the assurances of “freedom,” “independence” and “a new beginning”that their leaders generously pepper their speeches with. Hearing thedeclarations of MKs Eitan Cabel, Isaac Herzog, Sheli Yachimovich, YaelDayan and others, one may be forgiven for mistaking Israel formodern-day Tunisia celebrating the fall of its dictator, Ben Ali. Theirfiery, passionate slogans paint a picture of the Dictator Barak finallybeing overthrown along with his henchmen and henchwomen like theformidable Orit Noked or the tyrannical Einat Wilf. Thank heavens thatnow Herzog and Cabel are free to do what they wanted to do all thoseyears but couldn’t because of the vicious Matan Vilna’i and thepitiless Shalom Simhon .
This could have all been so very comical if it were not so sad.
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.