Photo: Gabi Menashe
“A giant leap for Barak, a small step for the Labor party” – this is how an experienced political figure associated with Ehud Barak summed up the Labor party vote results Tuesday night. Indeed, Barak managed to achieve what he wanted: Bringing his party into Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist coalition. He did not win by a large majority, but the chairman reinforced his leadership among a little more than 1,000 committee members and led his split party – which is not split in practice – into the Likud government. The scarred leader of the lamest party recorded an impressive political achievement, and to hell with everything else; to hell with the party.
The debate over Labor’s future is expected to continue in the coming months. Those who wanted to keep the party out of the coalition will continue to argue that joining forces with Netanyahu constitutes an ultimate disengagement from the voters and the painful death of the movement that built the country. This is our demise, they will say, as they vote against government decisions at the Knesset.
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Meanwhile, those who supported Labor’s entry into the coalition will argue that there was no other choice: If Kadima, the party that elicited most center-Left votes, is in the opposition, Labor has no reason to be there. This is not where salvation will come from. We need to exercise our influence.
Still, the feelings are difficult: Young guard members played Likud’s jingle at the entrance to the committee vote. The party’s future generation feels that the current leader is doing everything to take care of himself and his associates, but not of the party. “He lost the leadership. He’s a coward. He hesitates. He isn’t a leader” - These were just some of the harsh terms uttered by activists about Barak, who dragged his party into an unnatural coalition.
When it comes to this political winter, and also to the approaching summer, the Labor chairman doesn’t really care about his party. In closed-door conversations, which were officially denied by his advisors, Barak spoke of Labor as a dead political body, or at least one that is rotten on the inside; a body with no hope for revival.
The kibbutz effect
Professor Carlo Strenger from Tel Aviv University’s psychology department explains that Barak sees no advantage in going to the opposition because he is not made for substantive action out of power. “The man grew up in a kibbutz,” Professor Strenger says. “If he can’t influence, he sees no benefit to his actions. Barak also does not think someone will believe that his motives are not personal. He apparently understand that as Labor’s chairman he will not have another term at the country’s helm, after he reached the conclusion that Labor ended its historical role in Israeli politics. Barak fears that he won’t be able to leave his mark on the State’s history.”
Regardless of whether personal motives are involved, the Labor party embarks on an old-new road with half of its senior figures confused and frustrated. They wanted to be in the opposition, yet he wanted to join the coalition. He wanted power. Yet in the coming months the rift is expected to be mended, at least in part. The rebels have no alternative – they saw what happened to Meretz. They know that the Labor party platform is better than any other leftist platform. Therefore, they will stick around and tow the party line; until the next battle comes around.
Barak will do to Netanyahu what he did to Olmert, that is, make his life difficult. He must prove to his party that he was right to drag it into the government. Labor officials are wondering whether it won’t be too late and whether he won’t lead the party into oblivion and the annals of history.
And while Barak distances from his party, he moves closer to his most stable political anchor: In the past two years, Ofer Eini has become not only a partner for Barak, but also a mentor; a sort of political guru. The Histadrut Labor Union Federation chairman brought Netanyahu the economic agreement with Likud, legitimized the entry into a right-wing government, and in fact became a co-chairman of the Labor party. With his power, involvement, and influence Eini is reminiscent of the Histadrut heads who served here in the first decades following the state’s establishment. Eini is not just another wheeler and dealer on behalf of the Labor party. As of yesterday, he is the Labor party.