Whither Amram Mitzna? Whither the Labor Party?

Given the dismal state of Labor, the former party chairman will have much to consider before plunging back into the quagmire of national politics.

mitzna and abbas_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
mitzna and abbas_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When the Likud found itself with only 12 Knesset seats following the 2006 elections, its leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, had few qualms about leading his party into opposition and took advantage of the years in the wilderness for rehabilitation purposes. This is what Amram Mitzna tried to do following the 2003 elections, when under his leadership the Labor Party received only 19 seats. However, the party bolted, causing Mitzna to resign as chairman, and crawled back into the government. Mitzna remained in the Knesset as a backbencher for another two years, and then resigned to become acting mayor of Yeruham.
Now Mitzna’s five-year term in Yeruham has come to an end – five years in which he won much acclaim and admiration for the reforms which he instituted, his devotion, diligence and humility – it isn’t everyday that a former major-general, mayor and party leader decides to devote five years of his life to save a sinking Negev town, spending five days a week in a modest two-room apartment, while foregoing the services of a driver and other amenities to which he was undoubtedly accustomed.
Even before Mitzna left Yeruham, he was contacted by various figures from within the Labor Party and Meretz, seeking to entice him back into the quagmire of national politics. Those who wish Mitzna well are advising him to keep away from Labor. “Don’t even touch it with a stick,” MK Eitan Cabel is reported to have warned him. Undoubtedly, Mitzna will have to carefully consider his options, given the dismal state of the political Left in general, and that of Labor in particular.
In 1981, Yossi Sarid (then still a member of the Labor Party) argued that demographics were working against the Left. The amazing fact is that he said this after the Likud had completed only one term in office, before Shas was founded (in 1984), before ever growing numbers of haredim reached voting age and a decade before more than a million immigrants, most of them with right-wing inclinations, arrived from the former Soviet Union. What Sarid said nearly 30 years ago is still valid.
This does not mean that the trend will continue forever. Historical trends are not necessarily linear. George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World took a linear perspective, which suggested that what is will continue to be, only more so.
In 1984 journalist/writer Amnon Dankner executed a similar exercise in a short story he wrote (in Hebrew), “The Return of the Khanta.”
In this story, Israel has turned into a fanatic ultra-religious state, in which the Arabs live in reserves, the Likud is allowed to operate under strict limitations and all that remains of the Labor movement is a dilapidated museum. Dankner’s nightmarish vision might still be viewed as a not totally unlikely forecast, but not necessarily so.
UNFORTUNATELY, WHILE the excellent work performed by left-wing MKs such as Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) in the field of social legislation, Haim Oron (Meretz) in the Finance Committee and Dov Henin (Hadash) in the field of the environment, is widely appreciated, it has very little if any effect on how people vote. The same applies to Mitzna’s five years in the desert. This does not mean that left-wing politicians should not continue to do their best, but simply that without some external development that will shake the foundations of society, the trends are unlikely to change.
Such developments might include a further deterioration in the country’s political status in the world; a further deterioration in the economic and social conditions of large sectors of the population, accompanied by growing inequalities; financial instability (especially if Stanley Fischer decides he has had enough of us); or a massive natural catastrophe or military embroilment, with far-reaching civilian consequences.
This being the reality, the question is not whether Mitzna – an outspoken dove – has any chance of winning an election, since no leader of the Left today has any chance of winning an election. The question that must be asked is whether he is the right man to wean the Labor Party ministers from office (despite the positive things some of them have accomplished), to reestablish the party as a living body, with a clear-cut ideology and program, and to try to unite all the enlightened left-wing forces in the country under a single roof, that will offer the public a real alternative, if and when it is ready for it.
Another question is whether what remains of the Labor Party establishment will let him do all these things. Many will answer in the negative, and Mitzna will have to take this into account before he decides what path to take.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.