'I'm ashamed, I have transgressed, I have sinned'

Why my vote for the Labor Party was a big mistake.

labor vote 298.88 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer)
labor vote 298.88
(photo credit: Roni Schutzer)
It was on these pages of The Jerusalem Post that I justified shifting my political allegiance in the last Knesset elections, voting for the Labor Party and not Meretz, for whom I had voted in every previous national and local election. To quote the Yom Kippur liturgy: "I'm ashamed, I have transgressed, I have sinned." Among the many promises the Labor Party made to its voters was that it would improve the socioeconomic situation in Israel. Yet not only did Labor not opt to head a single social or economic ministry, it has tolerated the fact that one such ministry - social and labor affairs - be left vacant, deposited in the hands of the prime minister, whose attention to the economically deprived and the socially disenfranchised has never been his strong suit. The manner in which a country tends to the needs of the weaker elements in its society is a test of its moral fiber - a test that Labor told the voters it would meet. In the brief period that Labor has been in the government, the gap between the rich and poor has grown. In fact, there has been no significant change in the economic polices of the present administration from the time when Binyamin Netanyahu served as treasury minister - as they affect single parents, the health basket, the disabled and the university population, to name only a few segments of society. Does the Labor Party actually believe that raising the minimum wage to a paltry NIS 4,000 a month will reduce the number of people who live under the poverty line? MORE troublesome is that Netanyahu's "Wisconsin Plan" has remained intact - a plan that requires work in exchange for time-limited assistance. The problem is, as has happened in the US where the program was initially instituted, there are too many people who have had their welfare support stripped due to their genuine inability to work, because they might be the only parent at home or because they suffer from a mental or physical disability. Additionally, the bureaucratic minefield one has to navigate because of the insufficient and ill-trained number of "professionals" who make the judgment as to who can work or who cannot, finds too many Israelis who do not fit into neatly-defined work categories now bereft of any support from the state. Given the supposed socialist tendencies of Labor's leader, former union organizer Amir Peretz, and his buddies in the party, it is shocking that they would tolerate such economic and social injustice. But, Peretz and his colleagues have failed in other areas as well. Not only has Peretz, in inadvisably accepting the defense ministry as opposed to a welfare or economic ministry, let his preoccupation with security concerns adversely affect his concerns for pressing socioeconomic issues, his lack of experience wrought untold damage upon the state and inflicted unbearable tragedy upon too many of its citizens as a result the botched Lebanese war. And yet one still held out hope that as defense minister, Peretz would fulfill his promise to dismantle illegal settlements. With the exception of removing a few mountaintop huts, not a single illegal settlement has been dismantled. Moreover, existing settlements continue their expansion and new ones have been established. For me the straw that broke the camel's back is that Peretz and his Labor colleagues made an "unbreakable" promise that they would never join a government in which Avigdor Lieberman was a partner. Lieberman and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu embrace the "transfer" philosophy of the late Rehavam Ze'evi, sanitizing his philosophy of expulsion by euphemistically calling for an "exchange of territories" of concentrated Arab regions in Israel, including the Israeli Arab populations in Haifa, Lod, Ramla and Tel Aviv-Jaffa, for areas in the territories occupied by Jews. Further, Yisrael Beiteinu demands a loyalty oath to Israel as a Zionist and Jewish state. LIEBERMAN IS Israel's counterpart to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the president of France's far-right National Front Party and Jorg Haider, the former leader of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party. Like Lieberman, both are known for their xenophobia. Hypocrisy knows no boundaries. Racist policies of political parties in other countries are reviled by our "enlightened" democratic leaders. Apparently, this is the case only when Jews are the targets of those parties' venom. Sadly, when it is Arabs who are the victims of similarly extreme positions within our own political system, the Labor Party, in sitting around the cabinet table with Lieberman, has turned a blind eye, providing a platform for insidious world views to penetrate the highest echelons of our government. Under Peretz's leadership the Labor Party has left its voters dumbstruck, as it has violated a social contract that called for an equitable distribution of wealth; has explained away the failures of the Lebanon war by blaming the previous governments for its own lack of preparedness and intelligence shortcomings; has not evacuated illegal settlements; and has accepted into the government an individual whose philosophical world view is antithetical to Labor's "alleged" social ideology. How sad that Yitzhak Herzog, Yuli Tamir, Ami Ayalon, Avishai Braverman and Matan Vilna'i - Labor's "squeaky-clean guys" - have joined Peretz by choosing political expediency over moral principle. As for me, for my sin of an ill-cast vote I find myself doing repentance every day. I only wish Peretz and the Labor Party would do the same.