Reality Check: Peretz, not Gabbay

Ehud Barak has turned to Facebook to provide the most insightful, entertaining and cutting criticisms of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be found anywhere in the Israeli political system.

Gabbay and Peretz (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Gabbay and Peretz
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘What did he mean by that?” was the response by Austrian Empire diplomat Klemens von Metternich on hearing of the death of French statesman Talleyrand. The same can be said for Ehud Barak’s recent Facebook video concerning Monday’s Labor Party leadership election.
For those still unaware, Barak has turned to Facebook to provide the most insightful, entertaining and cutting criticisms of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be found anywhere in the Israeli political system. Casually dressed, filmed either at home or in hotel rooms, without an Israeli flag or full set of encyclopedias behind him, each week the former prime minister takes no more than two minutes to lacerate the Netanyahu government’s policies and the character of the person leading it.
There are those who are convinced that these low-key but biting videos are the beginning of Barak’s comeback campaign (for the third time!) to lead the opposition to Netanyahu at the next elections. Rather than dirty his hands in actual politicking and attempting to regain the Labor leadership in a conventional manner, Barak is seen by some to be carefully placing himself as an oracle above the fray, but ready to answer the call when elections come and the opposition start casting around for a strong leader to take on Netanyahu.
Which is why his strident call to Labor Party members to support Avi Gabbay in Monday’s run-off elections for the Labor leadership raised so many eyebrows. Not content with simply stating his preference for Gabbay, Barak went as far to dismiss the other contender, Amir Peretz, as a politician of the past decade while ardently proclaiming Gabbay as one for the future. Given that Peretz is almost a decade a younger than Barak, what does that then make Barak? A politician of the past century? But let’s say we take Barak at face value – which is often difficult to do knowing his delight in deploying diversionary tactics and assuming different identities – is he making the correct call here? Between Gabbay and Peretz, who is the right man to be leading Labor into the next elections? First of all, it’s worth reminding ourselves why Isaac Herzog failed to make it to these run-off elections. There are two main reasons: he failed to beat Netanyahu in the 2015 Knesset elections and then compounded that failure by always giving the appearance he was looking for the semblance of an excuse to join Netanyahu in a Likud-Labor alliance.
In many respects, Labor Party members are an unforgiving bunch. Post-1996 and Netanyahu’s victory over Shimon Peres, every Labor leader has been replaced following an election defeat, some soon after the polls closed, others later on in the election cycle. As surely as night follows day, an electoral defeat has spelled the end of that particular leader’s tenure and so Herzog was doomed almost from the start.
What sealed his fate was his public humiliation at the hands of Netanyahu. When the prime minister pulled the coalition negotiating rug out from under Herzog’s feet and instead turned to the Right and invited Avigdor Liberman to join the government as defense minister, Herzog was finished as a credible leader.
To give Gabbay credit, he resigned from his cabinet post in protest at this move, leaving the center-right Kulanu Party he helped establish with Moshe Kahlon, and began his journey to the Labor Party. Incredibly, within the space of just a few months, Gabbay has risen from being a new member of the party to potentially becoming its leader.
Which is where questions arise about his readiness for the role. Gabbay has no real political experience to speak of, he is not a sitting member of the Knesset so would not be able to lead the opposition from there, and his only leadership experience comes from the business world.
As we’re seeing in Washington, success in business is no guarantee of a person’s suitability for high office.
Peretz, on the other hand, is a seasoned politician, with a strong record of achievement. As defense minister and deputy prime minister, he spearheaded the vital Iron Dome anti-rocket interceptor project over the objections of the IDF and many Defense Ministry experts. A former leader of the Histadrut, he has a clear social-economic agenda to match his dovish position with regard to the Palestinians and, most importantly, he has proved he can attract voters from the Likud heartlands of the country’s periphery.
In the 2006 elections, under Peretz’s leadership, Labor won 19 seats compared to the Likud’s 12 under Netanyahu. Peretz has defeated Netanyahu once at the polls, Labor should give him a second chance to do so again. Even if that means the end of Barak’s entertaining Facebook videos.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.