Middle Israel: Just not Barak

Have Labor voters forgotten nothing and learned nothing?

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
I don't know about you, but for my part I don't know any ordinary citizen who will be voting in Labor's fateful primaries next week. In fact, other than politicians, I am unaware I know any "card-carrying" party members of whatever persuasion, and that alone speaks volumes about our political system's moral crisis. Now, however, like a battered woman surrendering to just one last waltz with her abusive husband, thousands of Labor "members" are poised to vote, just one last time, for one of our worst political traumas: Ehud Barak. Most Laborites understand what they are out to shed. Their election of Amir Peretz two years ago has been tragic for him, for them and for all of us. Those of us who already understood then just how misguided that choice was were not surprised by what followed it. To Middle Israelis, talk of the unionist firebrand representing a social revolution was ludicrous from the outset and the thought of his arrival at the Treasury hair-raising. We couldn't figure out what made him think he was equipped to lead this country, or what made Laborites tolerate the audacity it took for him to take on Shimon Peres. Then, on Election Day, Middle Israelis gave Labor a piece of their mind, as they deprived the party that elected Peretz of some 10 percent of its already minuscule following. Still, Peretz remained so unreconstructed that he took over the Defense portfolio about which he understood little and risked everything, from his future to ours. Now of course everyone, even Labor's most gullible activists (well, except Shelly Yacimovich) and cynical hacks (except Yoram Marciano), realize Peretz should never have arrived where he did. What they don't seem to be asking is how they ended up with him in the first place and whether they themselves have changed since then. HOW LABOR got where it has is simple: Some were too romanced to notice their proletarian hero's bluff, others were part of it. In other words, Labor's choice of Peretz was not the problem, only its symptom. The real problem was that Labor combined hypocrisy with naivete, and willingly followed a man so blinded by his lust for power that he challenged and cheated, of all people, Shimon Peres, the man who, besides being head and shoulders above him by any yardstick, had politically christened Peretz and then also paved his way back to Labor after he had left it. Judging by their reported urge to part with Peretz, it appears Laborites understand they made a big boo-boo with him. Yet judging by their very consideration of Barak, it seems they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Having publicly endorsed Barak's prime-ministerial bid in '99, this column must now caution Labor members that if they crown him their leader, they will lose the next election - because Peretz's hypocrisy pales compared with Barak's. PERETZ WAS, to be sure, disingenuous when he claimed he would dedicate himself to the needy and that he would finance social spending by trimming the defense budget. Had he been honest, he would have taken stock of the limited votes he won and his minimal executive experience and settled for something like the Welfare and Social Services portfolio, where he actually could have done things. Had Peretz been consistent, he would have at least stood by his word and cut the defense budget once it became "his." Yet despicable as this behavior was, Peretz could at least argue that his promises would have been better kept had he been elected prime minister. Ehud Barak, however, betrayed his voters after having been elected prime minister, and by a landslide. THOUGH THE coalition he assembled included antagonists like Shas and Meretz, its members were generally happy to help Barak realize his bombastic campaign promises to focus on domestic issues. Alas, the most Napoleonic man to ever land in our public sphere lost no time abandoning his most effective campaign promise - "to look after the old woman in the Nahariya hospital's corridor" - and stormed instead the much mystifying corridors of geopolitics. During his premiership - the shortest, wildest and most failed ever seen here - Barak hardly dealt with domestic issues, focusing instead on his hasty retreat from Lebanon, cumbersome embrace of Yasser Arafat and inconclusive talks with Hafez Assad, not before promising instant peace deals, though he had no clue concerning his counterparts' willingness to accept his dictates, and putting on the counter some of Zionism's most precious assets, after consulting with pretty much no one. Meanwhile, Barak saw not only his coalition partners, from Eli Yishai to Natan Sharansky, but even his closest aides slip away one by one. Fittingly, his political Tower of Babel fell apart in tandem with his diplomatic house of cards, as Arafat - fresh from the Camp David talks where according to Barak's script he was to sign a peace treaty - brandished instead a declaration of war. Just how Laborites can still think Barak will bring them back to power is a mystery. Evidently, they just don't understand that Middle Israelis, unlike diehard Laborites, are actually capable of voting Bibi, even if they never did so in the past. MANY BAD things can be said about Binyamin Netanyahu, and all of them have already been said. Yet one thing even his enemies can't deny: He has convictions. Bibi managed to turn the economy around because he had a clear economic belief system well before he knew he would ever be finance minister, and his belief in those ideas was such that he pursued them even in the face of harsh opposition. His criticism of the disengagement idea may have been less resolute, but on that front too there is no denying he warned in advance that post-pullout Gaza would sizzle. There is also no denying he sacrificed his cabinet position for that conviction. These are the facts with which Labor must grapple. If it elects a leader who, on top of his political insincerity and managerial incompetence, doesn't even believe in the socialism that he once preached and his party still claims to espouse, it will mean that on the conviction front Labor has chosen to surrender without a fight. Middle Israelis, if faced with such a choice, will know what to do: Some may laugh, some may cry, some may vote Kadima and others Barak, but most will do what they once thought they would never do - vote Bibi. www.MiddleIsrael.com