Monday, November 25, 2013

Domestic politics

A change in the domestic political scene in Israel was presaged last week by the victory of Isaac Herzog for the leadership of the Labor Party. He defeated the incumbent Shelli Yacimovitch by 58 to 41%, but with a low voter turnout (53%). This is the seventh consecutive change of leadership since the Labor Party lost power in 1999 to Likud and has never regained it. Not only that, but the Labor Party has seen a gradual decline in its support. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand, the Labor Party became the controlling power in israel for 30 years from the foundation of the State in 1948 until the electoral victory by Menachem Begin of Likud in 1977. During that time, the Labor Party produced many famous leaders, from Ben Gurion to Golda Meir. But, in the end, as with every organization, power corrupted it. It was not only foreign policy or the relationship with the Arab world and the Palestinians that caused the change, but also the corruption that was exemplified by the suicide of the Labor Minister of Housing in 1977.

Isaac Herzog is considered a more serious leader than Yacimovich has been. She refused in principle to serve in a coalition with Netanyahu and focussed almost exclusively on domestic issues. Unfortunately in Israel, the relations with the Palestinians, the US and others is a very important component of any government's policies. Herzog has previous experience as a Minister and comes from a distinguished family, his grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Israel and his father was former President Chaim Herzog. He said that he is going to have two main planks in his policies, social justice and peace. He is expected to be more pragmatic than Yacimovich and may even be prepared to join the Netanyahu coalition.

There is a saying that all politics is domestic, but in Israel relations with the Palestinians and the Arabs, as well as Iran, tend to dominate all discourse. This is bad in a sense for the country, but a necessary evil. Israel has to have a large defense budget, that of course diminishes the welfare budget. Nevertheless, Israel is a welfare state, with entitlements and a good medical system (American Jews note). Hopefully Isaac Herzog will improve the status of the Labor Party as the loyal opposition.


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