I am very heartened by the Labor Party’s strong showing in yesterday’s Israeli election.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking. In the 2003 Knesset election they received 19 seats and their leader, Amram Mitzna, resigned. This election Labor receives 20 seats and it is a victory?
The answer is simple – the results must be understood in the context of the “big bang” that took place in Israeli politics when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud and took three Labor ministers with him, including Shimon Peres, to form Kadima.
Going back to the establishment of the State of Israel there were three historic Zionist ideological streams – Labor, Revisionist and Religious (Modern Orthodox).
Before this election took place, the National Religious Party (NRP) had already merged into the right wing National Union, ending the independent status of the NRP. The election dealt a serious blow to the already battered Likud, the successor of Herut and Revisionist Zionism, leaving them as the fifth largest party in the Knesset. In addition, their traditional dream of a greater Israel is no longer even on the public agenda.
In clear contrast, the Labor Party held together behind the leadership of Amir Peretz and has apparently emerged from this election more united in message than any time in recent years. But there is more.
At the beginning of the campaign, Peretz declared that this election would be about social issues, not foreign policy as has been the case since the first Knesset election. Although that did not entirely come about, there is little doubt that Labor went along way towards dictating the campaign agenda.
Mena Tzemach, the veteran Israeli Dahaf pollster, told an audience today that social issues gained the spotlight three months ago and again over the past two weeks. This is why the polls missed the surprise of the election, the Pensioners Party, which gained an astounding seven seats. Led by Rafi Eitan, a veteran spymaster who captured Adolf Eichmann and ran Jonathan Pollard, they are singularly focused on the plight of elderly. Last night on the Israeli radio station Ga’alei Tzahal there was a report that soldiers were heard saying that it was “cool” to vote for their grandparents and Ms. Tzemach said that an estimated 5% of young voters cast their ballot for the retirees. She suggested that Shas’ increase in seats can also be traced to their emphasis on social issues.
That is why I am pleased with Labor’s showing. They regained public confidence by maintaining a commitment to the two inter-related issues of peace and social justice, thus surviving this earthquake in Israeli politics. The party is now well positioned to join a government led by Ehud Olmert as the senior coalition partner with all that entails, including insistence on policy and personnel matters.