Labor drive invites corruption

New Labor Party "members" unlikely to vote for the party in national elections cast doubt on the legitimacy of a recent membership drive.

Labor party cartoon 521 (photo credit: Menachem Jerenberg)
Labor party cartoon 521
(photo credit: Menachem Jerenberg)
News about suspected irregularities in the Israel Labor Party membership drive that closed on June 7 was indeed distressing for the party, which is hoping to get itself back on track following a September 12 leadership contest, to be held on the basis of the new membership list. A quick examination of the forms revealed suspicions of fraud.
The system of primaries for the election of its leader and its candidates for the Knesset was adopted by the party for elections to the 13th Knesset in 1992. According to this system, the registered members of Labor elect both its leader and its Knesset list. When the system was first introduced, it was lauded as a major move toward democratization of the party, and the revamping of its cadres. Previously the leaders were elected by the party central committee, while the party list was put together before each general election by an arrangements committee made up of a few party hacks.
However, the new system soon proved to be a mixed blessing. In the first place, it became apparent that many central figures in the party, like Abba Eban, were not built to play the primaries game and were politically doomed. Next, party discipline went down the drain as Labor MKs felt no obligation toward the party leadership, but rather to the party members whose votes they require in order to be reelected. The financial cost of running in primaries also proved to be a corrupting factor, even though strict rules were instituted regarding sources of finance. As time went by, an additional problem emerged concerning the party membership drives held before each set of primaries.
Though only a small number of candidates began engaging in fraudulent practices, this development marred the excitement over the “festival of democracy.”
Naturally candidates are interested in enlisting as many potential supporters for themselves as possible, and invest a great deal of energy and resources in this process. Unfortunately, not all the methods used are legitimate, or even legal.
We are talking in particular about the practice of engaging persons to enlist new members who frequently have no ideological affinity with the Labor Party, and are unlikely to vote for it in the general elections. These recruiters are then responsible for ensuring that the new “members” turn up on primaries day to vote for the candidate on whose behalf they are acting. After the primaries, the recruits’ party membership is cancelled.
Following the recent membership drive, which closed on June 7, 80,000 people are believed to be registered in the Labor Party, though the final figure will be verified only after problematic registration forms are reviewed by attorney Sarah Frisch, engaged by the party to examine the results of the drive. Of the 80,000, over a quarter are old-time members, and just over 7,000 are people who registered on forms downloaded from the Internet. The rest – estimated at 50,000 – were recruited by the five contestants: MK Isaac Herzog, Erel Margalit, Amram Mitzna, MK Amir Peretz and MK Shelly Yacimovich. Peretz is believed to be responsible for around half of these registrations, and Herzog for around 15,000.
Why are there suspicions of irregularities? Because of the 50,000, around 25 percent are Arabs, the vast majority of whom are not Labor Party voters. Furthermore, the forms from certain development towns include the names of haredim and new immigrants with right-wing inclinations, as well as of known members (or supporters) of other parties. Among the means of revealing such irregularities are identical phone and credit card numbers appearing on different registration forms.
At the moment, the registration forms are being examined by Frisch, and updated lists will be published after the examination is complete.
Hopefully this will not take too long, so that the leadership contest can begin in earnest and start dealing with the real issues: what the various candidates can offer for the rehabilitation of the party; their ideological platform on the various issues; and most important of all, who among them has the best chances of ensuring that the number of Labor MKs in the 19th Knesset will be a twodigit figure. The two candidates who appear to have the best credentials are Mitzna and Yacimovich.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.