Analysis: Condemned to repeat history?

Labor has already split five times and survived, while break-offs like Rafi and Am Ehad have been forgotten.

barak following elections 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
barak following elections 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"Labor joining a national unity government will kill the party," a Labor minister shouted to a raucous crowd of party activists. "National responsibility does not mean entering a national unity government. It means making sure there is an opposition. The nation will appreciate a party that fights for its path," the minister said. The party's chairman responded by ardently accusing the minister of prematurely eulogizing the party, issuing empty threats and being jealous of him. Another minister's words were barely heard, because he was booed for 15 minutes straight. This exciting showdown sounds like it might be written up Tuesday night following the Labor convention. But this confrontation actually took place on February 26, 2001. The party chairman is Shimon Peres, not Ehud Barak. And his adversarial ministers are Shlomo Ben-Ami and Haim Ramon, not Yuli Tamir and Ghaleb Majadle. Labor politicians used very strong language that night at the Tel Aviv Cinerama, where the Labor central committee ultimately decided to enter the government being formed by then Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon. They claimed their battle was purely ideological and not political, or God forbid, personal. But the party survived. The politicians swallowed their pride. And the prime minister they accused of being a hawk in dove's clothing later withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and formed a party that would take leftist voters away from Labor. More than eight years later, Barak is facing a battle for his political career and the much-eulogized Labor Party's future is undoubtedly hanging in the balance. But it is important to put Tuesday's expected drama into historic perspective. Labor has already split five times and survived, while break-offs like Rafi and Am Ehad have been forgotten. True, the party never fell to its current 13 seats, but Kadima, the party that took away Labor's seats, could still be a passing fad. Both sides of the divide in Labor accuse the other of wanting to split the party if they lose Tuesday's vote. Barak's opponents are sure he will join the Likud government on his own as a professional appointment, while Barak hints his rivals might exit Labor. But neither side has actually threatened to get up and leave the party. Barak has vowed not to. His opponents have said they would be a fighting opposition to the government if their party joined it, but they have also promised to stay. So that means that no matter what happens on Tuesday, even if one side calls the other names while the crowd raises hell, Labor's politicians are stuck together, whether they like it or not. They will keep on fighting with each other and their conventions will keep on meeting. And perhaps, eight years from now, someone will quote speeches from Tuesday night's event and suggest that they could be said that very night.