The Zionist Conspiracy
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Disclaimer: I do not like Amir Peretz. The rabid socialist and long-time Histadrut leader was personally responsible for my missing my flight to Israel in September 2004 and almost having to cancel my trip entirely, when he ordered a general strike that shut down Ben Gurion Airport.
The victory of Amir Peretz over Shimon Peres in the Labor party primary is sure to shake up Israeli politics and radically change historic voting patterns.
Peretz's takeover of Labor will result in the end of the Likud-Labor national unity government, causing early elections in a few months, probably around March.
Peretz will be the first Labor leader in decades to seriously challenge Likud for the vote of traditional lower-class and working-class members of Israeli society, particularly Sephardim. Menachem Begin successfully portrayed Labor as headed by a bunch of rich, Ashkenazi secular elitists. Ehud Barak issued an apology to Sephardim for Labor's mistreatment of them when they were absorbed into Israel, with limited success at the polls. But Peretz, who is from a Moroccan background, will have instant credibility with many Sephardim, and with Likud now championing a free market economy with serious cuts in government benefits, his arguments likely will resonate with many who previously never would have dreamed of voting Labor.
Peretz's message will cause some longtime Likud supporters to shift their allegiance to Labor. Some Sephardim will still never vote for Labor under any circumstances, but Peretz's attacks on Likud will lead them to vote for Shas rather than Likud, which regained much Sephardi support in the 2003 election.
At the same time, Peretz's socialism - along with his moustache which makes him look like Stalin - will basically end any chance Labor has of gaining support from Russians.
Labor's main constituency - secular Ashkenazim who tend to be upper middle-class by Israeli standards - tend to support Likud's economic policies. Assuming that Ariel Sharon continues to head Likud, some may switch their allegiance to Likud, others will vote for the ultra-secular/pro-free market Shinui party, while those on the left will vote for Yachad/Meretz. If Sharon forms a new centrist party, it will be even easier for ex-Labor supporters to vote from Sharon's party.
The other interesting aspect of the Labor primary is the defeat of Peres, who had a large lead in all pre-election polls. Apparently, Peres' base was so sure he would win that they simply did not bother to vote. Peres' inability to win in elections is staggering. He has run for Prime Minister five times, led in the polls all five times, and never won. He even lost in a shocking upset in the Knesset's 2000 vote for President of Israel.
Peres will likely be back, though. He can't win an election, but always has a senior position in Israeli governance and politics.