The political honeymoon Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich has enjoyed since taking the reins of her party a year ago is now all but over in the wake of last week's primaries.
Until Friday, she enjoyed what could be described as a political spring. Even her detractors approved of her rise to the helm, although not without criticism. In fact, they were as supportive of her as parents are of their graduating teenagers.
The new Knesset candidate list that emerged from the primaries is full of new faces. It has much promise, although the new line-up is peppered with political heavyweights as well. Most of the candidates Yachimovich endorsed made it to lucrative slots high on the list. This mitigated the strong showing of her long-time rival Amir Peretz and his candidates. In fact, Peretz's only real accomplishment was having social activist and journalist Merav Michaeli (who was shunned by Yachimovich) make it to slot No. 5, in no small part because that place is earmarked for women only.
Peretz turned Yachimovich's honeymoon into raging storm, and a tsunami may be in the offing. He hit her on two separate fronts. What he said is problematic any day of the year, but even more so during an election season. In his first line of attack, he said he planned to oust Yachimovich and seek her job after the elections. He then warned her not to enter a Netanyahu government after the elections or even contemplate such a proposition. In other words, even if Yachimovich thought she represented a centrist party, the opposition from within wants her to adopt an unadulterated left-wing posture.
When a public figure tries to undercut a party leader at the height of a campaign, the whole party suffers.
But Peretz doesn’t think so. In fact, he believes the endless battles former premiers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres waged over who would be at the helm of the party actually helped it. He believes that family feuds generate more meaningful debate.
I think he is wrong. After Rabin called Peres an indefatigable subverter, the latter never recovered and was unable to be elected prime minister (in the wake of the Rabin assassination Peres became acting prime minister, but was voted out of office in the general elections several months later). Peretz has apparently forgot the biblical teaching that there is "a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes, 3:5).
This is no way to run an election campaign. Peretz's demand that Yachimovich stick to the opposition benches undermines the core tenets of her campaign. Whether her bid ultimately succeeds or fails is anyone's guess, but one cannot deny her unique approach. She has effectively written off the voters who have ditched Labor in favor of Meretz, and instead is almost singularly focused on winning over moderate right-wing constituencies.
If she caves to Peretz by pledging to stay out of the government, her effort to brand herself as the candidate of consensus and Zionism — a tactical move designed to bolster Labor at the expense of the liberal Right — would unravel.
Michaeli's strong performance is an electoral liability for Yachimovich, despite the former's strong credentials as an advocate of women's rights and as an engaging columnist. Michaeli is known for her absurd linguistic idiosyncrasies, insisting on addressing crowds using only feminine pronouns and verbs. Even more worrying is that allegedly she once voted for the National Democratic Assembly (one of the Arab factions in the Knesset) and implied that Israel Defense Forces recruits should refuse orders on moral grounds.
While Michaeli said she could not recall ever voting for the National Democratic Assembly, she has yet to make herself clear on whether she does indeed think soldiers should become conscientious objectors. For some voters, the position on the IDF serves as a litmus test that every candidate must pass. Such people would not vote for a party whose standard-bearers call for insubordination in the Israeli military.
If Michaeli wants to avoid this scrutiny and if she wants to put this ludicrous idea behind her, she should take a leaf out of other offenders’ books by owning up and expressing remorse. This way she might have her "sentence slashed," the way sex offenders do who get an early release from jail if they behave well.
Against the backdrop of this Yachimovich-Peretz feud, Labor has started off on the wrong foot as it heads into the last part of the campaign. At least there is unanimous consent within the party over which foot we are talking about: the Left.