It’s probably hard to tell from outside certain Israeli circles, but the withering Labor party has been making some considerable noise over its approaching primaries campaign. With nearly as many serious contenders for the leadership as there are Labor members in the Knesset (eight), the competition has always had a rather moribund feel to it. Now, with Channel 2 exposing that at least 10 percent of registered party members are also registered members of rival parties Kadima and Likud, and many more did not know they have joined a party, the plot is taking a distinct lurch toward the macabre.
Last night, Channel 2’s Amit Segal reported that him and his researchers sifted through over 23,000 membership forms – about half of the 50,000 new members the party boasted to have registered ahead of the primaries. His findings were dire: about 2,300 of those have registered to several parties at once – an offense punishable by a year in prison; dozens of voters in the Palestinian minority in Israel were registered through the head of a family or a clan, with his phone number on all their membership forms; profoundly suspicious patterns (in the township of Houra, for example, 10 people voted for Labor in the last elections, but over 110 joined the party ranks this year); and many of those he called to inquire why they joined the Labor party said they signed something they didn’t understand, while others still thought he was calling them with a job offer.
None of this should come as a surprise. Labor, after all, is the farcical recurring of the tragedy of Mapai, the mega-party that ruled the state for its first three decades (boasting, alongside occasionally effective but deeply racist development drives, the Nakba, the military regime, the Suez crisis, the Occupation, and practically every endemic social wrong that has plagued Israel ever since, from the pact with the ultra-Orthodox parties through the discrimination of Mizrahim and the military cult). Wholesale registration of loyal Arab-Israeli clans, in particular, is as Labor as Rabin and Ben Gurion, as Hillel Cohen relates in exasperating detail in Good Arabs. What’s slightly bewildering is why call through all this bother for a party heading for an inevitable and overdue collapse, barring some injection of new blood in the shape of the slightly sinister National Left movement.
Another thing that stood out in the latest debacle is that just like in the embarrassing Wikileaks showdown over racist comments a few months ago, the candidates hit worse are Isaac Hertzog and Amir Peretz, while frontrunner Shelly Yachimovich comes through sparkling clean; part of me wishes she would be hit by a scandal soon as well, just for balance sake.
Incidentally, Yachimovich is disliked by some on the Left for trying to steer the party away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more toward socio-economic issues. To my mind, in some way it’s almost honest. The Labor party is responsible for both the Oslo process – a failure and a catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians (though, as usual, more for the latter than the former); the maximum-carnage killing of same process in 2000; and enthusiastically cow-towing every right-wing government that came to power since, until finally being unceremoniously thrown out of the current one by its own chairman. To claim this party has anything to offer on the diplomatic front is an ongoing insult to public intelligence. Not that Labor is likely to do on the socio-economic front, but at least we will be spent the “peace camp” pretense. Luckily, the chances of it gaining significant clout in the next elections are smaller than ever before – and so is its potential to cause damage in whichever field it applies its Midas touch to.