Israel — Labor-led election debacle
by Hans Lebrecht Headed by Labor chair Amram Mitzna, most of the Labor Party ranks blame their election debacle on the Party's 20 months of fig-leave cabinet collaboration with the Sharon Government. This collaboration in Sharon's atrocious war and anti-social course, caused a further deterioration of the security situation, as well as pushing the masses further into the abyss of dire poverty. Their departure from that catastrophic government in November and the short six-week election campaign came too late to repair the damage done to the credibility of the Labor Party. The self-styled "left" Zionist Meretz Party lost almost half of its support, winning only six Knesset seats, compared to its former ten. Let's remember that Meretz, led by Yossi Sareed, refused to join the Coalition of Peace forces, in which 29 parties and organisations are united. In particular, they could not accept that one of the components of the coalition is a group of army officers and soldiers who refuse to serve as occupation oppressors in the occupied Palestinian territories. Now Sareed has paid the consequences of his party's election debacle and resigned from post as chairman (but not from the Knesset). The Meretz leadership plus two former Labor "doves" (Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan) are now trying, with or without the Labour Party, to form a new social-democratic party. Whether they will succeed, is still written in the clouds. However, the peace camp will remain active as before, or even strengthen its activities in face of a probably more violent, more enthusiastic pro- Bush war and anti-social Sharon (or Netanyahu) Government. A big winner at these elections was the petty-bourgeois party Shinui (Change), chaired by the former journalist and well-known right-wing market place political braggart Yosef (Tommy) Lapid. His party, which had six seats in the outgoing Knesset, won 15 this time. Lapid's mobilising card was the demand to oust the ultra clerical "Haredi" parties, mainly the Shas, from their major influence on state policy. The motley composition of Shinui's now elected leaders do not have common backgrounds. Most of them joined because their former "homes" with Labour, Meretz or the Likud Party had disappointed them. Israel has a long experience with such motley petty-bourgeois upstart parties which cause much trouble, and then disappears when most of their members return to their former parties or, doubly disappointed, leave politics altogether. This happened at the 1977 elections when the Dash party of "Democratic Change", led by a former army chief-of-staff general, Yigal Yadin, also gained 15 Knesset seats. Right after those elections Yadin and some of his Dash colleagues joined the Mahal (forerunner of today's Likud), chaired by right-wing conservative Menahem Begin of the old rightist Herut party, enabling him to establish his right-wing government. By this mean they helped topple the hitherto 29-year social democrat Workers Party (forerunner of today's Labour) government rule, headed at the time by Yitzhak Rabin. Shortly afterwards, the Dash leaders returned either to the Mahal or Labour benches, or retired from political life. One even committed suicide. The attempt of racist elements in the right-wing and fascist parties to outlaw, or at least deprive Arab nationals, of their active election rights, received a just rebuff. My readers might remember that the politically biased Central Election Board adopted resolutions to ban two Arab Knesset Members, Azmi Bishara and Ahmad Tibi, as well as Bishara's Balad Party, from signing their candidacies and participation in the elections. The excuse was that they allegedly collaborated with Palestinian "terrorists" and that they undermined the Jewish character of the State of Israel. Both, Bishara and Tibi won seats in the new Knesset; the Balad party even tripled its representation. True, the under-representation of the Arab minority population — almost 20 percent of the citizens of Israel — in Israel's Parliament is distinctly racist. In fact, especially after the October 2000 police massacre of 13 Arab citizens, the Arab population as a whole has become a stout and strong factor in the peace camp. Regretfully, the call for a united front of all Arab parties (for instance by the Communist Forum) to compete in the elections against the racist trend in Israel on a platform for peace and full equality, was not adopted. What now? Without any doubt, State President Moshe Katzav will ask Sharon to form the next government. Sharon most certainly will not need all the 42 days open to him to form a government, which will be supported by a Knesset majority. Even if Sharon himself might be forced to resign because of the still smouldering bribery and corruption scandals, his place would be taken by his Likud deputy, Binyamin Netanyahu. Sharon is still trying to create a so-called broad Coalition of Unity with Likud, the clerical parties, Shinui and Labour. He is reluctant at the moment to form a small coalition which would embrace also the radical right-wing and fascist elements. He has one eye on Washington and a Bush "peace initiative", as well as his appeal for another US$4 billion dollar injection and US$8 billion bank guarantees from the US treasury. His other eye is on the European Union, by far the largest trading partner of Israel, which in some ways sympathises with the Palestinians and their demand for justice and national recognition of their rights. As mentioned already, Labour chair Mitzna rejects all attempts by Sharon, as well as by some of his own party colleagues who sat on ministerial chairs in the Sharon cabinet, to go into partnership with Sharon. How far Labor would be prepared to join the other components of the peace camp, or again remain aloof from such a partnership, remains to be seen.