Israel elects: Labor and the Left

Israel's Labor party, once split, is perhaps at the beginning of a new resurgence

by Nathalie Tamam on 21 January 2013 10:04

Israel’s Labor party has undergone a revival. In 2011, Labor, which was led by one-time Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak split in two.

Barak and his followers chose to stay a part of Netanyahu’s coalition, forming a new faction called ‘Independence’. The rest of the party went into opposition.

Once a party of ex-army generals, Labor traditionally took a strong stance on protecting Israel from its enemies while actively pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

But the summer 2011 protests, in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to demonstrate the high cost of living in the country, marked a sea change within the Labor party. It represented an opportunity to re-define itself and think anew about what it stood for.

Since then, the rehabilitated Labor, under the leadership of Shelley Yachimovich, has put issues of foreign affairs to one side and focused almost exclusively on domestic and economic matters.

This is a strategy that has worked well. Currently on eight seats in the Knesset, it is projected to have around 18 after the election, thereby becoming Israel’s second largest party.

Yachimovich’s list of candidates is a mixture of political experience. Old timers like Isaac Herzog, son of Israeli president Chaim Herzog and Amir Peretz, former Defence Minister and the man who commissioned the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system, are both very high up on the candidates list.

But the list also includes new faces. Stav Shaffir for example, who at 27 years old will become the youngest female Member of the Knesset (MK) in Israel’s history. The candidates list also includes many social activists who think the government should be doing more to help the middle and lower classes.

The abundance of media personalities on the Labor list is also notable. In a Knesset long dominated by greyer faces, these journalists have the advantage of bringing new and interesting ideas to the party while still being familiar to the Israeli public in general.

The party’s candidates list is, however, too far to the left to present any serious challenge to Netanyahu.

It is also questionable whether or not a party that shies away from focusing on important foreign issues will be trusted enough by Israelis to protect the country in a tough neighbourhood, in increasingly tough times.

Yachimovich has been very clear thoughout. She will either be Israel’s next Prime Minister, or she will lead the opposition. For now it seems Israel’s Labor will remain a party of potential, rather than one of power.

This article is the fourth in a series of blogs on the 2012 Israeli elections. You can find the rest by clicking here

This article is written in a personal capacity. The views expressed are those of the author's alone

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