Friday, November 18, 2005

New Hope for Labor in Israel

Keep your eye on this man, Amir Peretz, the newly elected leader of the Labor Party in Israel. In a meeting with Ariel Sharon today, the two agreed to early elections, sometime next spring.

The Moroccan-born Peretz is a founding member of Israel's Peace Now, advocates a return to social democratic principles and greater economic equality, and withdrawal from the West Bank. See interview in Ha'aretz. Perhaps Peretz will be a champion for that vast segment of Israel that longs for peace with its neighbors, social equality at home, and a just resolution with the Palestinians.

The Forward is cautiously optimistic:
Each of [Labor's] would-be champions, and a few others who have tried along the way, came from the same basic mold: military men attempting to recapture the magic of Labor's last real hero, Yitzhak Rabin. Like Rabin they emerged from the heart of Israel's military establishment, which tends to be considerably more pragmatic and dovish than the electorate at large. Unlike Rabin, they had not spent decades out of uniform, earning the public's trust and learning the pitfalls of politics. Perhaps most important, they came on the scene in an era when Israeli politics has become deeply polarized and tribal. Labor is firmly identified with the Ashkenazic elites that founded the state. Likud is seen as the party of the rising Sephardic majority, which wants its day in the sun. Nothing Labor's leaders have said or done has managed to break the image.

There's no guarantee that Amir Peretz, Labor's latest champion, will fare any differently. True, early polls show him boosting the party's strength , even before he's had a chance to speak to the public and articulate a vision from his new perch. But that could be due merely to the novelty of his outsider candidacy as a Moroccan-born Sephardic Jew from a poor town who has no college degree or military medals. It could be that the Peretz era will be just one more way station on the Labor Party's road to decline.

If Peretz does have a shot at making a difference and turning Labor around, it's partly because he's worked his way up the political ladder for decades; he's not likely to melt with the first rain or needlessly alienate his friends. It's partly because, in an era of identity politics, he can speak for Israel's new majority.

We suspect, though, that part of what has captured Israel's imagination is Peretz's message. He speaks to working Israelis about their mounting economic distress. He puts the blame where it belongs — on the neoconservative ideological twaddle of the free-marketeers who have dominated Israel's public discourse for years. And, unlike the brainy generals who came before him, he doesn't promise clever new inventions. His platform is essentially a return to the social-democratic principles that worked so well for so long until they were so disastrously tossed aside. American liberals should be watching him closely.
Full article.

We are. If Peretz can win and reach a just peace with the Palestinians, it will do more for the "War on Terror" than all the bombs we've dropped on Iraq.

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