The Labor Party Central Committee has just voted to accept Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to join the right-wing coalition. Ehud Barak already was one of Israel’s worst Prime Ministers; now he has the dubious distinction of the worst ever leader of the Labor Party.
The labor movement built Israel. It constructed the institutions of the Yishuv that allowed the fledgling state to win its independence. It created the Haganah. No one would ever call the early labor leaders economic geniuses, but they constructed a sturdy social democracy that for all its many faults, was the only one ever in the Middle East.
And now? Led by a man whose idea of social democracy is buying a multimillion dollar condo in Tel Aviv, it has become a permanent fringe party, supported only by aging apparatchiks. Working people in Israel have no advocates, and are reduced to supporting anti-Arab racists (Lieberman) and Mizrahi fundamentalists (Shas).
And on security, there is no strategy, only tactics. Labor could have advocated Sari Nusseibeh’s strategy, which would have had the advantage of 1) presenting a clear alternative; 2) allowing the public to make the decision; and 3) challenging the Palestinians to do the same. Now, Barak will find himself voting for more settlement construction, desperately clinging to something called power.
A friend of mine whose father was often in government in a parliamentary democracy once told me that if you’re a minister too long, you get addicted to it. You can’t deal with not having flunkies greet you at the airport, with not getting a government car, with not just going to the front of the line all the time. Mr. Barak, here is your car.
Barak’s cravenness in all of this is so great (before the election, he promised not to do this), that it does give me pause, and wonder whether we all need to revise the narrative of the 2000 Camp David talks. Not that Arafat wasn’t just as bad — he was also craven and never sincere about making peace. But the two men deeply deserved each other.
Mencken once remarked that democracy was the belief that the people know what they want and deserve to get it — good and hard. His area of the graveyard is in a much better mood today than Ben-Gurion’s.