Israel Harel
Haaretz (Opinion)
April 3, 2008 - 5:36pm

Labor is disappointed with Ehud Barak. He is a master wheeler-dealer, Amir Peretz claims. He is disconnected, laments Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. He has learned nothing, he hasn't changed, yells Yoram Marciano. His main goal, Peretz charges, is to become prime minister. His main flaw, everyone agrees, is that he has no agenda.

Most of these shortcomings would have been forgiven or become a leader's advantages, had Labor enjoyed public support. The primary reason why the public no longer stands behind Labor is not (only) the flaws of either Barak or his critics. After all, their own private and public conduct is no secret, and they are no more talented or charismatic than the man they now openly assail. Amram Mitzna, a former Labor chairman, was criticized for having the opposite traits: He lacked the ability to wheel and deal, vital for running a party; he was too nice, too soft on party lobbyists; his agenda was less than clearly formulated, and he lacked a singular, uncompromising desire to seize the reins of the state.

Led by Mitzna and then by Perez, Labor did not win the elections not (only) because its heads suffered from leadership flaws, but because even their fellow leaders - Ophir Pines-Paz, Ben-Eliezer, Marciano and others - failed to thrill the voter. Labor did not win because it did not have a clear path.

In the last two decades, and now especially, Labor has lacked vision. When there is a vision that unites a public of followers, even an average leader can lead a party, and even a state. When there is no vision, even those blessed with charisma and high executive abilities cannot lead for long. If Labor holds no interest for the public, it is not because of Barak's remoteness and complexity, nor due to the lack of an "agenda," but because Labor, with Barak at the helm, does not represent something credible and authentic.

Labor's "agenda," especially with regard to the security situation, is derived from the philosophy of Meretz. Its social program is weak and vague. It was Labor and its predecessor Ma'arach that brought the country to a state in which the Likud party could lead a radical privatization campaign. It was they who corrupted and pushed into degeneration precisely those institutions that symbolized social solidarity: the Histadrut Labor Federation, the Kupat Holim HMO and other economic bodies that the fledgling state had established, and eventually the government-owned corporations as well.

If Barak, Perez and Ben-Eliezer's predecessors had not destroyed these institutions, the pressure to privatize would not have emerged. After all, the first to get rich off the spoils of privatization were Labor's prominent activists and the personal acquaintances of its leaders.

Labor is sounding a discordant note not only in its social agenda. The party disappointed voters no less when it abandoned the mainstream positions on security policy, as when it forwent its social goals. These voters - or their parents, after all - had close ties to Labor's pragmatic activism.

Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres began the process when they agreed to be led by the concocters of the Oslo accords in their halter of false dreams. All of the catastrophes we have faced since, in terms of our security and our international standing, including the Second Lebanon War, have been the product of the same disastrous move. Ehud Barak continued down the same path: his foolish late-night escape from Lebanon in 2000 inflicted on Israel the war of terror that continues, especially in the western Negev, to this day.

Labor must find up-to-date ways to fulfill the ideologies that led it in the early days of the state, but it must always adhere to its basic roots. The party has not done so. Having detached itself from most of its roots, it is now swept along by the drifting sands of revolving agendas.

A historical party cannot and must not act in response to public opinion polls, whose findings are influenced by the unsettling effects of pressing events or by the manipulation of spin doctors. Such a party must have a broad, solid foundation of faith in core principles, foremost among them those related, despite the changing times, to Zionism.

What will save Barak? "An agenda," says the minister of national infrastructures at a microphone ambush in Beit She'arim. And who will set the agenda? Why, it is clear: one of the public image specialists he named while gossiping with the agriculture minister.

And, given his basic values and terminology, it never has occured to him that in order to end the war or terror or to restore to the public a sense of solidarity and the hope of a better future, in terms of both Israel's security and the state of its society - for that, what is needed is not an agenda, but a vision. What we need are visionaries, not dissemblers who specialize in the "science" of the public image.


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