Labor leader Amir Peretz has to move beyond cosmetic gestures

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz seems to be auditioning for the job of deckchair attendant on the Titanic.

Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Abekasis at a Labor-Gesher rally in August  (photo credit: EHUD AMITON/TPS)
Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Abekasis at a Labor-Gesher rally in August
(photo credit: EHUD AMITON/TPS)
Labor Party leader Amir Peretz seems to be auditioning for the job of deckchair attendant on the Titanic. His steadfast refusal to contemplate joining forces with Meretz puts at great risk what should be the sole goal of the center-left for the next round of elections in March: the removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.
Netanyahu, officially, might not be a criminal yet – at present he is “only” charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust – but he is certainly behaving like one. The prime minister’s speech last week in which he announced that he was requesting Knesset immunity from prosecution was filled with rhetoric more suitable for a mobster than a national leader.
Entering the dark and troubled realm of conspiracy theorists, Netanyahu flung mud in all directions, wildly alleging he was the victim of “trumped-up charges, selective enforcement, blackmail of state’s witnesses” and more. Long gone are the days of the country’s first Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin, and his firm legacy of respect for judicial authority, even when decisions went against him.
In such an environment, Peretz’s behavior is also criminal – in another sense of the word – because March’s election will focus on one issue and one issue only: Bibi, yes or no.
While Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman will do his best to revive religious-secular tensions, arguments about haredi conscription into the IDF – or the need to remove control of marriage and divorce from the draconian grip of the Orthodox rabbinate – will not form the rallying cry of the next elections.
Assuming there are no spillover effects onto Israel from America’s targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani at the end of last week, neither will matters of diplomacy or Israel’s military standing. With one-time firebrand Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on board with Israel’s plan to enter a long-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas – so long as the border remains quiet – there will be little talk of Gaza, or the Palestinians in general, come March.
With low inflation and low unemployment, the economy is also not on top of the minds of most of the Israeli electorate. This does not mean all is well on the economic front: A recent National Insurance Institute report shows an increase in the Gini inequality index and a growing squeeze on the middle class, the engine room of any developed economy. But these trends are not sharp enough to permeate the current political debate.
Everything leads back to Netanyahu and his fitness, or more precisely, his lack of fitness to serve as the country’s prime minister. A vote for the Likud and parties to the Right (and the haredi/ultra Orthodox parties), is a vote for Netanyahu to remain in office, despite the strong stench of corruption surrounding him. A vote for Blue and White and the parties to the Left of it, is a vote against the prime minister. It’s as simple as that, with the only open question being which way Liberman will sway once the votes are totaled up.
Every Knesset seat is vital, which is why it is so imperative that Peretz drops his stubborn refusal to merge with Meretz, for this clear opportunity to turf Netanyahu out of his Balfour Street residence.
Peretz’s argument that his alliance with Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis would bring traditional right-wing voters into the Labor camp was proven totally specious in September’s elections, with Labor-Gesher winning only six seats. This precisely matched the miserable six seats Labor won in the previous elections, when the party stood alone under the disastrous leadership of Avi Gabbay.
There is no reason to believe the situation will be any different in three months’ time. The most recent polls are predicting five seats for Labor-Gesher and four for Meretz, hence the necessity for a Labor-Meretz alliance. Four seats is the cut-off point for failing to pass the electoral threshold, and the center-left bloc cannot afford the risk that either Labor or Meretz, or even both, will fail to make the cut come polling day.
If Labor voters don’t like the alliance with Meretz, they can always vote Blue and White, with no harm done to the bloc. Meretz voters have the option of either Blue and White or, for the more radical, the Joint List. Either way, the anti-Netanyahu bloc will remain firm, and no potential seats will be lost, which has to be the center-left’s guiding principle for these elections.
Last time around, Peretz shaved off his mustache to prove his commitment to not sitting in a Netanyahu-led government. Now, the Labor leader needs to go beyond cosmetic gestures and join forces with Meretz, to help unseat an unworthy prime minister.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.