Think About It: Why I shall vote for Labor-Gesher

Another term of the rather wacky right-wing government that has ruled the country for the last four years will be ruinous.

Time to decide who to vote for again  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Time to decide who to vote for again
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After a good deal of thought and many arguments with supporters of the Democratic Camp, I have decided to vote for Labor-Gesher, even though in the last Labor Party leadership primaries I voted for Itzik Shmuli, who had indicated that he favored joining Meretz and Ehud Barak in a single list for the elections to the 22nd Knesset, rather than running independently.
At the time of the primaries, some of the veteran members of the Labor Party tried to convince me that of the four candidates, only Amir Peretz could be relied on to do all in his power to lead the battered party to its recovery
I was skeptical. First of all because it is clear to me that the Labor Party cannot be led back to where it was in its heyday, since much of its erstwhile power base is no longer available to the party (e.g. the Histadrut labor federation, kibbutzim and moshavim), and because even though I know Peretz quite well and share much of his ideology, I always doubted whether he had what it takes to be a national leader. While he always seemed somewhat out of his depth in the Knesset to which he was first elected in 1988, as head of the Sderot local council in the years 1983-88 he was outstanding, both in terms of promoting Sderot’s welfare and development, and in terms of his relationship with the inhabitants of the town, and especially its Ethiopian inhabitants, who started settling in Sderot in the 1980s.
Peretz won the recent primaries, and I was left with the dilemma of whether to vote for Meretz/Barak or Labor/Levy-Abecassis – between a social-democratic party with an Ashkenazi leadership, and a social democratic party with a Mizrahi leadership; between a party that has a former chief of staff/prime minister/defense minister among its founders (though Ehud Barak himself is unlikely to be elected to the Knesset since he is in 10th place on the list), and a former mayor of a peripheral town/Histadrut chairman/defense minister as its leader; of a party that is not completely focused in its ideological messages, and one that has consciously chosen to concentrate on socioeconomic issues on which a majority of the citizens of Israel are in basic agreement.
Based on all the recent opinion polls, it is not at all certain whether Labor/Gesher will manage to attract more than a handful of Mizrahim from the periphery, who are traditional Likud voters, despite the fact No. 2 on the list is the daughter of a former senior Likud MK (David Levy) and a former member of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party, which despite Liberman’s current political tactics on issues of religion and state and Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued leadership, is a right-wing party par excellence.
Even though Levy-Abecassis avoids speaking on the security situation and peace issues, in no way is she a political left-winger or dove. Nevertheless, the idea of a Left/Right list concentrating on the social and economic problems of large sections of the Israeli society, rather than on those of a particular sector, fascinates me and I would be happy to see it move as far above the 3.25% qualifying threshold as possible.
I also see the Labor/Gesher combination as an opportunity to raise a new brand of Mizrahi political leaders who will differ from the brand that has emerged in the Likud (Regev/Bitan/Amsalem/Ohana) and in Shas. Paradoxically, while we are yet to see the Mizrahi periphery moving toward Labor/Gesher, radical left-wing Mizrahi intellectuals, such as those of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow (Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit) appear to be impressed with the socioeconomic platform published by Labor/Gesher – a platform abhorred by neo-liberals.
IN A RECENT broadcast of Mishkan Laila (Night Abode) on the Knesset TV channel, Dr. Hani Zubeida, one of the founders of the Mizrahi Rainbow, spoke enthusiastically about Labor/Gesher’s program, though he admitted that he has not yet decided whether to vote for the list.
I am not at all certain that the Democratic Camp and Labor/Gesher will be members of the next coalition, which is a shame, since both have a lot to contribute to Israel’s return to sanity. Liberman’s concept of a national unity/emergency government excludes the haredi (ultra-Orthodox)/messianic religious parties and the parties further to the Left than Blue and White (besides excluding Netanyahu personally). If Liberman’s concept will prevail, the National Camp and Labor/Gesher will remain in opposition, together with the haredi parties and most of the components of the Yamina Party.
Of one thing I am sure, which is that another term of the rather wacky right-wing government that has ruled the country for the last four years will be ruinous, especially with Rafi Peretz as education minister, Bezalel Smotrich as transportation minister, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggling against being indicted.
Nothing would please me more than a liberal, democratic government, including moderate left- and right-wingers, a religious party that does not consider the Haskala (Enlightenment) to have been a mishap, seculars to be evil, or homosexuals to be “curable,” and Arab members serving under similar conditions to the Ashkenazi haredim. The idea of Dr. Ahmed Tibi replacing Ya’acov Litzman as deputy health minister seems most natural, given the very high percentage of Arab doctors, dentists, pharmacists and various paramedical occupations in the population
However, I believe such a government to be not only unlikely now, but also highly vulnerable from a security point of view, since the Jewish population requires a period of weaning from Netanyahu, and of learning to accept alternatives to him as being legitimate. Extreme right-wingers – of whom there are many more today in Israel than back in 1995 when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated – are sure to react violently to a government led by anyone who does not belong to the Right, even if democratically elected. This is a danger not to be ignored or disparaged.
No one knows whether Liberman will prevail, or whether some other form of national unity/emergency government will emerge. It is only after September 17 that we shall know whether the Likud will have the guts to dispose of Netanyahu should he once again fail to form a government of any sort following the election, as the opinion polls predict.
Though I am increasingly hearing people whom I know to be traditional Likud voters say it really is time for Netanyahu to go and that he has been in power for much too long, it is difficult to know whether there are enough of them to tip the scales. I suspect that at least some of them will prefer not to vote at all than to vote anything other than the Likud.
One thing I am sure of is that Labor/Gesher will not join a narrow government led by Netanyahu, designed to provide Netanyahu with immunity against his indictment. Unlike the general mocking reaction of the media to Peretz’s gimmick of shaving off his 47-year-old mustache so the public can clearly read his lips when he states that under no circumstances will he “and Orly” join a government led by Netanyahu, I thought it was cute, though nothing more than a gimmick.