Politics: The long snooze

Ten reasons why Monday's Labor Party primary has proven such a big bore.

peretz 88 squint (photo credit: )
peretz 88 squint
(photo credit: )
More than 100,000 Labor Party members are eligible to vote in Monday's Labor leadership race that could decide the fate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, the country's next defense minister and the latest successor to David Ben-Gurion. And yet you might not have known this unless you have been reading the inside pages of this and other newspapers. Despite the fact that the primary is just three days away, it never really succeeded in making front-page news. Political correspondents couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like to cover the exciting Labor races of 1974, 1980 and 1992, when prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres faced off in contests that provided nonstop action. Admittedly, not every election has to become the clash of the titans, but nearly every race heats up eventually. Not this snoozer. HERE IS a list of 10 reasons why the Labor race never quite took off: Ehud's oath Before he joined the race, Ehud Barak received good advice from former prime minister Ariel Sharon's adviser Reuven Adler: Sometimes the best strategy is to remain silent. Barak saw that his 2005 strategy of grabbing microphones and searching for any available public podium didn't bring him either votes or respect. He also could have studied the 2001 primary, when front-runner Avraham Burg seemingly lost votes to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer every time he opened his mouth. So Barak announced his candidacy in a tersely worded fax and spoke publicly only twice in a five-month campaign: an ill-fated press conference at Kibbutz Sdot Yam two weeks ago, and short concluding remarks to his campaign staff on Thursday night. Not speaking publicly allowed Barak to avoid talking about uncomfortable subjects like the impact of his unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, where he made his millions and what he would do with the tense situation in the Gaza Strip as defense minister. Ayalon's avoidance Barak might not have gotten away with his attempt to silence the campaign if his main competition, MK Ami Ayalon, had publicly challenged him to a debate. Candidates Amir Peretz, Ophir Paz-Pines and Danny Yatom all frequently called for a debate. The political correspondents of Channels 2 and 10 pushed for it. Had every candidate but one agreed, Barak would have been pressured to comply. But Ayalon's campaign team was worried that he would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by facing off against his competition on national television. He made mistakes in planned statements and interviews, which are much easier than answering questions from his rivals live and under pressure. No one had more to lose in a debate than Barak, so perhaps it would have been smart for Ayalon to demand one. Ayalon made a risky decision not to take a risk. Military match-up When most Labor members go to the polls, they will be voting against a candidate more than for one. And no matter whom they support, the candidate most voters will be voting against is Peretz. Both of the race's frontrunners, Ayalon and Barak, are the opposite of Peretz, and that's what Labor members are looking for. They are both military men who could potentially lead the next war as defense minister. Which of them wins doesn't matter that much. Perhaps if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote and a runoff is held between the two, their differences will be highlighted and the race will become more interesting. Peretz post-mortem If this were a race in which Peretz was fighting for his political life, perhaps it would have been more exciting. But Peretz's career ended a year ago when he made the fatal mistake of accepting the Defense portfolio, and the Second Lebanon War was the final nail in his coffin. A race in which the incumbent is already political carrion is inherently less interesting. No to necrophilia One of the main reasons the race has not attracted attention is that the party is not worthy of it. Labor has only been in power eight of the last 30 years and very few people believe the winner is en route to the Prime Minister's Office. Barak started his campaign by declaring his candidacy for defense minister in Olmert's government in a glaring admission that this race is not being fought over who will be prime minister. Many have tried to resurrect Labor and many have failed, so chances are this time won't be any different. Election overdose One election in four years constitutes healthy competition. Five elections in seven years constitutes an unhealthy fixation. That's what Labor has endured in a party in which primaries have become so "dog bites man" that it's no wonder newspaper editors don't find them newsworthy. The high hopes cast upon Peretz, Amram Mitzna and Ben-Eliezer when they won make the press fear crying wolf again. Sderot side effects The fact that rockets are flying and people are dying in Sderot has made the race even more irrelevant than people thought it would be. There are 1,470 Labor members eligible to vote in the beleaguered town, but Sderot residents don't see their savior among the Labor candidates. None of them is named Gaydamak. If the attacks intensify, the race could even be pushed off the front pages on the day it is held, which would be very embarrassing for the party. Winograd wins out Even when political pieces have maneuvered military matters off the front pages, the political news that matters has been inside Kadima, not Labor. The battle between Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been much more interesting than any fight among the five Labor candidates. The Winograd Report focused the public's attention on Olmert's fate, overshadowing the future of the coalition's second-largest partner. Even when Labor made the news, the headlines were about faction chairman Yoram Marciano's bar brawl and MK Shelly Yacimovich's threats against Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. Perhaps if Paz-Pines had gone to a pub, he would have gotten some much needed pub-licity. Deliberate drown-out An article on why an issue has not made news would not be complete without blaming the media, and in this case it is warranted. Editors and publishers in the Hebrew press have deliberately downplayed the Labor race, in some cases because of their own political preferences. A reporter in one Hebrew newspaper wrote a follow-up story to The Jerusalem Post's investigation of Barak's business dealings, but her editor quashed the report. At least two newspapers have also responsibly turned down a major story purportedly connecting Barak to corruption. Omitted octogenarian A final factor that most Labor leadership races have had that this one is missing is Peres's participation. The 84-year-old vice premier had been in in the party's leadership for some six decades before following Sharon to Kadima. His presence, his personality and his ominous overconfidence always made the races he participated in fun for reporters to cover. That's why the race for president that hasn't even begun yet is already overshadowing the Labor primary, one Labor race that Peres has no chance of losing.