Analysis: Labor's gains came from industrial south

Both the party's greatest fear and greatest hope came to pass on election night.

amir peretz biz 88 (photo credit: )
amir peretz biz 88
(photo credit: )
Labor's campaign promises of a socioeconomic revolution may not be realized, but many are pointing to another, subtler shift as the real revolution achieved by party chairman Amir Peretz. Both the party's greatest fear and greatest hope came to pass on election night. Many of the Ashkenazi voters and kibbutzniks did indeed flee the party for Kadima, Labor analysts claim. On the other hand, Labor made huge gains in the industrial south, whose blue-collar, low-income constituency it has been eyeing for years. "There is a feeling that we should have had these voters all along," Peretz told The Jerusalem Post. "We stand for everything these developing communities need." On a chilly Monday night, a week before the elections, Peretz stood on a makeshift stage in the industrial section of Beersheba. As he pointed to the laundry lines and dirty pails that hung overhead belonging to squatters living in the area, he promised that real revolution was afoot, one that would rescue the community from the financial stagnation that had held it captive. After his speech, as he shook hands with the locals who had gathered, his foot caught in a piece of loose metal and he nearly tumbled into the crowd. "Leave it to a Moroccan," said Shoshi Derron, a mother of two. "But God love him." Like much of the rest of the crowd, Derron had voted Likud for nearly 12 years, but disillusionment with Binyamin Netanyahu and an affinity for Peretz's heritage convinced her to vote Labor. "I don't put any stock in this promise of a revolution," she said. "But I like what he says, and I really like how he says it." As it turned out, in Beersheba Labor received approximately 16.8 percent of the votes, up from 13.3% in 2003. In the development town of Ofakim, it rose from 8.9% to 16.3%; in Dimona from 10.4% to 17.9%. Hebrew University professor of political science Yaron Ezrahi called the shift "nothing short of remarkable... a turning point in the history of the party." He added: "What the Labor leadership sees now is a new potential for the party. It is a justification for Peretz's stress on the social agenda." Ezrahi said that the shift in constituency could not be attributed to any one point, but was rather a combination of long-term disillusionment with the Likud, and a kinship with Peretz and his policies. The Likud, he said, had lost its moderate voices to the Kadima Party and therefore appeared too right-wing for the comfort of many in the developing communities. The economic policies of Netanyahu also hurt working-class areas such as Beersheba harder than others, said Ezrahi. "They were prime for Labor... what you have now is the beginning of a new process of shifting that whole base over to Labor," he said. But Prof. Avi Diskin, also of Hebrew University, pointed out that while Labor gained in some communities, it could not ignore the voters it had lost. "It is very clear that people who previously voted for Likud in impoverished, lower-stratum Sephardi neighborhoods moved towards the Labor Party while people in other, higher, strata left Labor and mainly supported Kadima," said Diskin. "In affluent neighborhoods people were not happy with the leadership of Peretz. To put it simply: He is not like them." In upper-middle-class, mostly Ashkenazi areas such as Givatayim and Herzliya, Labor decreased by an average of 8%. "The Ashkenazim, especially the elderly ones, didn't like his style of trade-union speeches, but in the next government if he serves as a minister, his tone will change and that will help," said Ezrahi. He added that Labor could afford to be optimistic, as he believed that Kadima would not be able to come through on its election promises and more voters might return to Labor as a result. "For Peretz, the greatest victory was bringing the new voters in because it gave the party new blood and therefore a future," said one high-ranking member. "We have had Sephardim in the past... Peretz was at the right place at the right time." The results of the revolution, he added, were still up in the air.