Left, Right And Center

By Leonard Fein

Published November 25, 2005, issue of November 25, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

For about a millisecond, it seemed as if politics in Israel was experiencing a clarity bounce. The Labor Party, once the unchallenged engine of the system but lately suffering from mortis (yet without rigor), a flopping corpse suffering from terminal nostalgia, suddenly had chosen to face forward rather than back.

Amir Peretz, its new leader, was a man with a history and a platform and a passion for the future, a very different future from that proposed by Israel’s other parties. It had become routine in Israel to pay flip service to all domestic issues: a crumbling education system, a crumbling health care system, a huge increase in poverty, especially among children, and — gulp — the largest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized society, to assert the near-absolute priority of security issues, to imply and sometimes even to say explicitly that the accumulated aches and pains on the domestic side would have to await attention until the security issues were resolved. (By which time the aches and pains would have metastasized, reached and ruined the nation’s internal organs.)

Peretz quite boldly — and, because of his own history, with great credibility — proposed to reverse all that. He’d run on a domestic agenda, and he’d be clear that the domestic agenda and the security agenda were linked.

Those familiar with the Israeli political system, even though aware of that system’s propensity for muddle and chaos, were intrigued: Perhaps the working class Mizrachim who’d abandoned Labor for Likud in 1977 might now, out of their own economic and social distress, endorse Peretz, one of their own. Perhaps those who’d voted for Shas out of respect for traditional Judaism and out of gratitude for the social services that Shas provided them would see in Peretz a more plausible alternative, a man prepared to respect the tradition but not be enslaved by it.

Perhaps. And Labor’s own old-timers, a substantial number of whom had migrated to Meretz and even Shinui, now might conclude that it had come time to let Labor be Labor, to help bring it out of its virtual coma and become again a forceful social democratic party.

No such luck. The embattled bulldozer, the current giant of Israeli politics, now has ripped himself free of the ties with which Likud’s Lilliputians had endlessly annoyed him. (Recall Jonathan Swift’s “Lilliput,” marked by the pettiness of small minds who imagine themselves to be grand, filled with petty backbiting, the grandiosity of the truly mediocre.) So, finally, the lumbering giant decides to stand on his own: Ariel Sharon decides to let Sharon be Sharon. He will make a new party and take his case and his name to the polls, thereby ending Amir Peretz’s moment in the sun.

Whether Sharon’s move makes immediate political sense we will know only in the weeks ahead. On the surface, it makes great organizational sense. For some time now, Likud had been an uneasy amalgam of what is called in Israel “the national camp,” meaning those committed to Likud’s historic position opposing any territorial compromise with the Palestinians, and the pragmatic camp led by Sharon, widely if incorrectly perceived as Israel’s Mr. Security. The two sides coexisted with some discomfort until Sharon forced the Gaza disengagement, a pill the adherents of the national camp, led by Likud’s most prominent Lilliputian, Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to swallow.

So, even greater clarity? Labor as Labor, Likud as historic Likud, and Sharon as Sharon? Clear choices all the way around?

Don’t count on it. No one knows exactly — or, for that matter, even approximately — what it means to let Sharon be Sharon. A very strong argument can be made that Sharon wants, in what would plainly be his last round as prime minister, to re-enter Israel’s history as the great peacemaker, legitimate winner of a Nobel Peace Prize that would cleanse his long-since bloodied clothes, earning his rightful place in the pantheon of Israel’s founding fathers.

Sharon was a fighting general for much longer than he has been a fighting politician, and his modus operandi as a soldier, the pattern that marked his military craft and accounts for both his successes and his failures, was always opportunism. He saw openings where others did not, and took risks others would not. He was not hampered by doctrine nor inhibited by ideology. It requires no suspension of disbelief to imagine Sharon the war-maker transformed into Sharon the peacemaker, concluding his career by presiding over the end, at last, of Israel’s bitter conflict with its neighbors.

But at least as strong a case can be made for the view that Sharon’s “peace plan” is a mirage, a program to cantonize Palestine, to strengthen Israel’s “enclaves” in the West Bank and render irreversible a new and expanded map of Israel. Witness the early statements of Sharon’s aides: Sharon’s decision to go it alone, they reportedly say, signifies “his intention to carry out far-reaching diplomatic moves… testifies to a significant about-face in his ideology, which is likely to include favoring the evacuation of most or all isolated settlements in the West Bank.”

So, four more years, and all you get is evacuation of most or all the isolated settlements of the West Bank? That is a recipe for making a molehill out of a mountain.

But whatever Sharon’s plans, his unencumbered candidacy changes the character of the election campaign. If Peretz stays true to his focus on domestic issues, the “debate” will be a series of nonsequiturs, poverty vs. security, education vs. security, health care vs. security. And then? Election campaigns are only the prelude in Israel. The day after elections, when coalition negotiations begin, is what matters most. We can be confident that when that time comes, clarity will be granted early retirement.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.