Monday, October 03, 2011

Labor's resurgence?

The victory of Shelly Yachimovich in the primary election for the leader of the Labor Party last Friday is a sign of resuscitation of that Party that once led Israel. In its heyday, under Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, the Party had up to 45 seats of the 120 member Knesset and was the party of power. Only in 1977, after the narrow Israeli victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and several financial scandals in the Labor Government, did Likud under PM Menachem Begin take over. For several years Likud and Labor balanced each other out, until the split in Likud over the disengagement from Gaza in 2006, after which PM Sharon founded Kadima as a centrist party. This took votes away from Labor and they sunk to their lowest level in the last election with only 13 mandates!

The battle in Labor was over who could take the party into the future and Shelly won against all the old timers, Amram Mitzna, Amir Peretz and Isaac Herzog. She also beat relative newcomer Avishai Braverman, former head of Ben Gurion University. In a recent Jerusalem Post poll the Labor Party was predicted to win 26 seats against Likud's 32. Quite a slim majority. But, there has been a general shift to the right in recent Israeli elections, that has basically eclipsed the far left parties, such ar Meretz (only 2 mandates). So Shelly will have a difficult task to overcome this trend and the relative stability and success (economic and political) of the center right Netanyahu coalition. She will also have to work hard to establish herself as the leader of the opposition in place of Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party and also Ehud Barak and his new Independence Party that he split off from Labor with 5 of the 13 mandates to avoid defeat in this very Labor leader election.

Shelly (which means "mine" in Hebrew) was born in Kfar Saba in 1960 and became a TV reporter and anchor woman. As a result she was well known to many Israelis and when she joined the Labor Party in her first internal election she shot up to no. 8 on their list. From there her rise has been swift, and she represents a more pleasant image for the party compared to the rather dour visage of the old time members whose internal squabbles have lost them support. Whether she can resurrect the Party and bring it back to anything like its former self remains to be seen.


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