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Barak drags Labour Party to the right.

Byline: As'ad Abdul Rahman, Special to Gulf News

The Israeli Labour Party recently adopted a new charter that, in the view of some Israeli analysts and writers, augments the position of its leader, Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Labour would have been exposed to internal rifts had it not been for Barak's consent to early preparatory elections in 2012, instead of 2013. Opponents within the party accuse him of dictatorship and abusing power.

Despite the party's negative results in the February general elections, Barak said: "They called me Hugo Chavez and Saddam Hussain. But I won't acquiesce to the views of some party members".

When Israel was established in 1948, the Labour Party began its rule. This lasted until 1977, when the Israeli right came to power. Ever since, Labour has been in decline, winning only 13 of 120 parliamentary seats under Barak's leadership. The Zionist 'left' then comprised the Mapai, the Mapam and Ahdot Havoda. Between 1949 and 1968, this 'left' controlled not less than 59 seats in the Knesset.

The then nationalist right-wing opposition, represented by the Herut Party under Menahem Begin, could only achieve 14 to 19 seats. Even after the unification of Herut with the 'liberal centre' and their formation of the Gahal movement, the new bloc did not win more than 27 seats in the 1965 elections.

Professor Shlomo Ben-Ami believes: "The most important reasons for the increasing power of the right and the decline of the left are demographic and ethnic changes which have taken place in Israel, leading to three major sectors: the new Russian immigrants, the Eastern Jews and the religious parties. These sectors, which the left was unable to attract, were controlled by an educated elite with purely rightist inclinations".

Political sociologist Professor Sami Samuha adds: "The wish to be differentiated from old immigrants and to prove allegiance to their new home has pushed the new immigrants into adopting extreme-rightist ideology and racial positions towards the Arabs believing that hostility to the Arabs is proof of patriotism & adoption of extremist positions on the part of new immigrants is a patriotic trademark in Israel".

Professor Yehuda Shinhav, the leader of a society defending the rights of Eastern Jews in Israel, says: "Most Eastern Jews believe right-wing parties are able to defend their rights and interests and to bring justice against the sectarian discrimination they have been suffering since the establishment of the state.

Accepting this belief on the part of the Eastern Jews has pushed them to grant their loyalty to Likud and Shas, the more extremist parties. Both champion removing injustice and countering discrimination against Eastern Jews. As for religious Jews - their loyalty to militant religious affiliations is behind their extremism".

Uzi Benziman, editor-in-chief of The Seventh Eye, says: "The left has been weakened not because of its performance, but because of the deepening of extremist inclinations in Israeli public opinion. The result of the withdrawal from Lebanon and the war against Gaza, according to [Israeli] public opinion, was proof of continued Arab enmity towards Israel and the failure of reconciliation".

Prominent researcher retired general Shlomo Gazette believes: "The fact that the Gaza War ended without major Israeli losses sold the Israeli public on the benefits of war, which strengthened the trend towards the right".

One of the most important factors leading to the decline of the 'left' is that Israeli society does not ideologically differentiate between left-wing and right-wing parties. The present coalition between rightist Likud and Labour, with the presence of the extreme rightist Yisrael Beiteinu, clearly demonstrates this trend. Both the 'left' and right share the same ideology concerning colonies, "an undivided Occupied Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel", and the denial of the Palestinian refugees' right-of-return.

Israeli writer Ariel Lin says, "What is happening brings me back to the deep-rooted crisis in the Labour party which was, at one time, a liberal party in Israel. Continuous internal contention is a sure method for destroying the party. Such dissension is expressiveE[sz]and defines the party image in the eyes of the public and weakens confidence in it".

In its editorial titled "Barak's policy is opportunist and sarcastic", the Haaretz newspaper said, "As a party leader, Barak is responsible for its defeat in the elections; as a defence minister, he is responsible for the useless war in Gaza...reports on what happened in Gaza pose serious questions about his performance as defence minister. The only way to repair the harm & is to go back to the opposition seats. Only from there can the Labour Party mend itself. Barak has the right to think otherwise, but has no right to deceive his party and his constituency. The party is obliged to speak the truth about Barak's impudence and leadership, as if the party has been his private yard."

Gideon Levy contends "the Israeli left died in 2000" after the Al Aqsa Intifada. "Ehud Barak," Levy adds, "is the one who killed the left in 2000, and buried it in 2009 (when he joined the most right-wing government in the history of Israel) and when he convinced the Israeli public that there was no Palestinian partner in the peace process."

Barak has managed to remain active in the political arena because of his acceptance as a de facto negotiator with the US and EU in lieu of the rejected extremist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Yet, as attested by numerous Zionist and Western analysts, he has definitely dragged the Labour party away from the Israeli left.

Dr As'ad Abdul Rahman is chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 19, 2009
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