Ben-Gurion Spins in His Grave

Ehud Barak was already one of Israel’s worst Prime Ministers; now, he will also be known as the worst leader ever of the Labor Party.

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.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.