Robert Rosenberg has written another excellent piece of analysis in Ariga.com of Amir Peretz’ stunning defeat of Shimon Peres in yesterday’s Labor Party contest:
Amir won with unequivocal declarations in favor of a social democratic party, appealing to the voters the Likud has lost to growing poverty in the so-called periphery. Those are the neighborhoods and towns, moshavism and villages where the shirtless teens who cheered Menachem Begin in 1977 have become grandparents and don’t see any better life for their grandchildren then they had as angry youngsters who wanted to throw out ‘the Alignment,’ the strange bureaucratic name Labor chose for itself in its final years of decaying rule.
Now, for the first time in years, Labor is being led by someone who speaks the language of the Left as unabashedly as the spokesmen on the Right. Amir is deeply rooted in Labor, even though he spent the last 10 years out of it, since he became Histadrut chief in the 1990s and he formed his own One Nation party, which won 2 seats in the current Knesset. The other MK in the party quickly moved to the Likud. Last year, Peres brought Peretz back into the party. At the time it was considered a Peres move to counter Ehud Barak’s maneuverings but as of last night it had turned into a Trojan horse. It obviously backfired.
One thing I like about Peretz already, in addition to his social democratic politics, is his understanding of the power of image and symbol. In that sense, he may have a little of Bill Clinton’s instictive awareness of the dramatic moment.
First, Peretz made a point of twice reaching out to Peres asking for his help in the upcoming election:
‘unlike others in the past when I say it, I mean it, I really need you, I really want you by my side, I want your advice. If not for me, for the party, and if not for the party, do it for the state, for our children.’
The new Labor leader knows that if his Party is to win it must have every oar in place, stroking together and in the same direction.
The very next thing he did was make a pilgrimage to Yitzchak Rabin’s grave:
Peretz went as promised to Yitzhak Rabin’s grave. In another four days, the Hebrew calendar date of the Rabin assassination will be marked. In a strange way, Peretz may represent Rabin more than any other Labor politician since then. While he was known as Mr. Security, Rabin always had a social agenda – in his first term it was foiled by the religious parties, but in his second term, he put investment in education and infrastructure at the top of his agenda, something that has not happened since.
The symbolism of the visit was important for two reasons. First, Peretz wants to annoint himself with the kingly oil of the last successful Labor prime minister. Second, with the 10th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination it is critical that Peretz honor Rabin’s legacy. And he did this today by invoking Rabin as his political mentor and guide.
Another powerful piece of symbolism was his appeal to the Sephardi voters who switched allegiance to Menachem Begin’s Likud in 1977 and never looked back (until now). He also invoked the name of Begin saying that the latter understood the plight of Israel’s second class (i.e. the Sephardim).
The conventional Labor Party leader never felt the need to reach beyond his natural constituency. He stayed pretty much within the white lines of Labor’s standard agenda and rhetoric. Peretz has more political imagination than that. And he recognizes that with Labor’s current plight it can never hope to gain a Knesset majority by limiting its appeal to its core constituency. Hence, the appeal to Sephardic and religious voters (another constituency Labor once appealed to and lost).
It is all the sadder to note that after Peretz left the Labor party following Rabin’s death and founded his own party, it was Shimon Peres who brought the man who vanquished him back into the fold. That’s got to sting for Peres. What’s more, at 82 Peres realizes that if this isn’t his last hurrah it’s pretty close. He probably will not get another chance to lead Labor or become prime minister. Peres’ political career is full of almosts and would-have-beens and this latest defeat has to hurt more than most. I devoutly hope that Peres can overcome his rancor and pull hard for Peretz. If not, neither Peres nor Peretz may have another opportunity to see Labor as a ruling party.