Amir Peretz new leader of Israel's Labour Party
November 10, 2005 8:25 PM   Subscribe

"Tonight was a night of dreams -- dreams of many citizens who have almost given up hope for being part of Israeli society."

A new Prime Minister for Israel? Moroccan Amir Peretz, former head of the Histadrut (Israel's general labour union) supplants Shimon Peres as leader of Israel's Labour with an agenda of social welfare and an end to sectarianism and ethnic tension.
BBC Profile. Jerusalem Post article. Analysis from HaAretz. June 2005 Interview. Biography and Open Letter from Official Website. Peretz's "Ethical Roadmap" for Israel.
posted by ori (13 comments total)
Sorry: that was Moroccan-born, and the spell-checker 'corrected' it for me.

The quote is from his victory speech, translated by me, and available (AFAIK) only in Hebrew here.
posted by ori at 8:27 PM on November 10, 2005

(last link)

" Fostering Social Justice Mutual Responsibility

My vision is that of a society based on social justice and solidarity. A society that provides the basic needs of all its citizens and leaves no room for "soup kitchens" and luxurious charity events "

Sounds like socialism to me.

Don't you know the formula?

1.) Install Jewish homeland state

2.) ???

3.) Profit

Never forget the third rule.
posted by Balisong at 8:57 PM on November 10, 2005

The big question is what will happen in the next general election, which will now almostcertainly take place in the next few months. There's rumors of a Likud meltdown, with Sharon leaving to form a new centrist party, and many right-wing likudniks, angry over disengagement, potentially switching to the various smaller right-wing parties (National Union, NRP, &etc.).
Sounds like socialism to me.
The Israeli Labour party is a long-standing member of the Socialist International.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:09 PM on November 10, 2005

This guy seems pretty good, based on what you've posted.

Really, it'd be rather nice to be able to identify with an Israel that no longer treats the Palestinians in a way that makes me ashamed and embarrassed for them. Currently, my position on Israel remains one of, "Hmm, I might be Jewish but I'll have nothing to do with those extremists, thank you very much." It'd be really something if his agenda could make Israel a place that I could be proud of.
posted by Jon-o at 9:11 PM on November 10, 2005

Good post, thanks for that. This came completely out of, er, left field to me, I wasn't even aware that the (rough) equivalent of (US) primary elections were approaching within the Israeli political system.

Can anyone provide some broader context for this? I thought that the Labor party was still pretty much a minority within both Israeli electoral politics and public sentiment there. What's the significance of this in Israeli politics and the Midde East generally? Does it affect Sharon's coalition?

The BBC article has some interesting bits about Sephardic jews and the history of the Labor party, but I have to confess that I'm pretty ignorant about the history of that, too (in my defense, this and a wide variety of other "internal" Israeli issues never seem to be covered in the US press). Are Sephardic jews a minority in Israel?

At any rate, the fact that the BBC and Haaretz describe him as "dovish," while the Jerusalem post describes him as a "power-hungry agitator, prepared to damage a fragile economy to score points against the government and the industrialists," seems like a point in his favor from my own, rather uninformed, perch.
posted by whir at 9:44 PM on November 10, 2005

What's the significance of this in Israeli politics and the Midde East generally?

I think the significance is that Israels Arab neighbors might be more sympathetic to a Sephardic Labor (read: friendly and kinda socialist) Party than they were to the religiously and ideologically conservative (and sometimes Askenazi, being likely perceived by the Arabs as much more foreign and western than the Sephardim) parties that have caused such a difficult time over the past few decades.
Also, I think it makes a big difference that Peretz's platform seems quite geared towards treating the Palestinians in a way that, hopefully, won't cause any further resentment and might actually make some progress towards peace.

this and a wide variety of other "internal" Israeli issues never seem to be covered in the US press

I feel kind of lost in all of this, too.

posted by Jon-o at 10:15 PM on November 10, 2005

Hey whir. You are partially right about the Labour party being "pretty much a minority". They are currently a minority in the Knesset, holding (IIRC) 22 seats whereas the Likud holds 40. However, this in indicative of their recent internal strife more than their historical standing with the Israeli public as the party (again, IIRC) who has had the most Prime Ministers elected from within its ranks. Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Golda Meir and (most famously) Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, were all members of the party (the latter in its former incarnation as MAPAI.)

In short: the labour party is one of the two political giants in Israel, and it stands a very good chance (IMO) of winning the next election. This guy is not a Nader, by any means.

I don't have exact numbers on the ratio of Sephardim to Ashkenazim (and other sects) handy, but I can tell you that the European Jewry has historically dominated politics, the intellegentsia and the ranks of the upper class in Israel. This is thankfully changing very rapidly (the election of a Moroccan Jew to head the Labour party is but one instance).

The labour party is a particularly interesting case since for years it has implicitly represented Israel's Ashkenazi elite whereas the Likud party campaigned among "outsiders" such as Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. However, the Likud party's economic policy, especially under Netanyahu as Prime Minister or Finance Minister, has been privatizing health care and cutting social services, so the labour party re-affirming its commitment to social programs and those who have been historically excluded from the fabric of Israeli political life is promising, and might spell disaster for the Likud, which heavily depends on that demographic.

As an addendum, it is important to note that the overwhelming majority of Israelis vote on the basis of security policy rather than economy, so the economic distinction between the right and the left in Israel is a bit more blurry than it is in most of the rest of the world. However, with significant social problems, this might be the first election in decades to focus on economic issue rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli Labour party is a long-standing member of the Socialist International.

By this point, their membership is a quaint gesture rather than an indication of policy, but Peretz may change that.
posted by ori at 10:21 PM on November 10, 2005

i truly hope this guy loses in the general elections.
if he wins, israeli economy will go to hell.
in his position as the head of the union he's been responsible for debilitating strikes left and right.

he's great for fiery speeches. but not for laying down state economic policy. israel, sadly, is not norway - it has no resources to support the types of things that peretz envisions.

yes, there should be more social programs. but there is a difference between social programs and socialist-style management this guy has advocated in his past positions.
posted by bokononito at 10:40 PM on November 10, 2005

I've been surprised watching Peretz's rise to mainstream party leadership. When I lived in Israel ('00-'01), he was certainly seen as a bit of an agitator (and not always a helpful one). I always liked him, but never thought he was going anywhere, given the ferocity of his tenor as head of the Histadrut.

It is a HUGE deal that Labor has elected a Sepharadi leader. One of the saddest things about the Israeli left and center left has been the historical absence of Sepharadim from its ranks. This has resulted in Sepharadim voting disproportionately for right wing, and special interest parties and bitterly hardened identity politics. I hope and suspect that this signals a change on that front.

If Likud breaks down (and this certainly is bad news for Likud), there could be a very interesting centrist secular coalition running the country in a few months. It's a little early to tell, though.

Such a government could drastically reduce the ability of hard right parties to dictate policy.

Peretz's positions vis a vis the Palestinians are clearly defined, and well to the left of recent Labor leadership. We'll see what happens. If for nothing else than the progress this represents for the inclusion of those, who, as ori puts it, have "been historically excluded from the fabric of Israeli political life."

Oh, and I would venture to say that Israel is approximately 30% Sepharadi.
posted by kosem at 11:33 PM on November 10, 2005

Great links ori, thanks for the background. My own sense is that this will probably seal the deal for Sharon and the Likud. Without Labor to make a coalition with, Sharon's (always hypothetical) breakaway centrist party would have a hard time finding a majority (I don't know the math, but I doubt that Shinui, the new Center-Right party and Meretz could make a go of it). So I'm guessing Sharon will tack rightward again and try to keep the Likud intact.

On the Palestinian side of things, then, this is probably a good thing. The voters will get a real choice in the next elections. Sharon will run on expanding Ma'ale Adumim and the other settlement blocs and on completing the fence. Peretz will run on Oslo.

Everybody except for the nuts knows that withdrawal from the W Bank is a fait accompli, but Sharon was going to pursue a 10 year timetable. Peretz would put things on a faster track. Either way, this keeps things moving forward and sucks air from the fire of the anti-disengagement crowd.

On the social front, it's a sign that Labor is willing to repudiate Netanyahu-style free-market savagery. The problems are not the entitlements to the elderly in Israeli society, they're the massive handouts to the ultra-orthodox. I think the usual calculus of working age vs. elderly population doesn't apply in Israel because of the continual influx of olim and the widespread non-contribution to the economy of the haredim. So, when Peretz says:
A society that is characterized by inclusion; by the enchantment of equality; by fostering diversity, promoting and protecting the cultural and communal life of all social groups; and last but not least by a struggle to reduce social antagonism and social violence especially among youth.
I believe in that a government bears responsibility to meet the basic needs and protect the rights of all its citizens.
I read this as: "the days of massive entitlements for the religious are coming to an end." Again, this can only be a good thing.

I like Peres. I think he's a great and generous man. But he and Barak have been a complete disaster for the Labor party. It'll be an interesting few months.
posted by felix betachat at 4:56 AM on November 11, 2005

Good Post ori!!

One of the saddest things about the Israeli left and center left has been the historical absence of Sepharadim from its ranks. This has resulted in Sepharadim voting disproportionately for right wing, and special interest parties and bitterly hardened identity politics. I hope and suspect that this signals a change on that front.

This demographic shift in electoral politics is absolutely necessary for a resurgence of the Left in Israeli politics. That resurgence is necessary for the frank dialogue with Israeli Arabs and with Palestinians. That dialogue is necessary for the survival of any Israeli nation.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:25 AM on November 11, 2005

This is fantastic and fascinating. And the epitome of good newsfilter. You may have realized that when it didn't garner 100+ "'Fuck you!' 'No, fuck you!'" replies.
posted by klangklangston at 6:37 AM on November 11, 2005

I'll jump on the bandwagon of 'great post' too, we see too little of what happens in Israeli (and other countries politics in the U.S. and MeFi and it's a great opportunity to learn more.
Here's hoping that Sharon's government gets the boot and Israel gets a government that's more responsive to it's people's needs than what has currently been holding office.
I'm sure that many people outside Israel have high hopes for this.
I wasn't aware of the privitization going on in Israel, but it doesn't surprise me it's met with disaster. Look at the U.S. privitization scheme, and on a larger tangent, the rest of the world. All have met with disaster but not befor lining the pockets of the corrupt. To me privitization means substituting one form of government for another, one that has no accountability and taxes the populace while still billing them (or should I say *bilking*) them for services.
posted by mk1gti at 7:42 AM on November 11, 2005

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