Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The Races - Labor and the Presidency
UPDATE (June 6): The increase in entropy that Jeha was talking about seems to be kicking in. Barak has joined up with Ofir Pines-Paz (Labor) and is now saying that if elected to head Labor, he would take the party out of the government, unless Olmert resigned. It's pretty clear that this is a move aimed at differentiating himself from the Peretz-Ayalon camp. This latest news is somewhat ironic, given Ayalon's earlier "principled stance" against Olmert, and Barak's waffling on the question. It's a big gamble, to be for sure.
It looks like Ami Ayalon and Amir Peretz have joined forces to give Ehud Barak a run for his money in the Labor primaries. It remains to be seen how the rest of the party responds, but this might just be a winning combination.
Peretz can still deliver some votes, and he is again pitching himself as the representative of the "social camp." The pair made their first joint appearance in the Negev development town Ofakim, not too far from Sderot. The town's Labor party members are solidly behind Peretz; Ayalon received only a small number of votes there. Indeed, most of the Labor members from the south of the country, will vote for Peretz. Ayalon, meanwhile, will draw in the kibbutzim and the voters in Tel Aviv. He also has the support of some of Labor's new faces, such as Avishai Braverman and Shelly Yehimovich [NOTE: Yehimovich later announced her support for Barak!].
Our readers from Lebanon and elsewhere are probably not terribly interested in the intricacies of Israeli domestic politics - so to cut to the chase, what's the fallout from this latest development? I think it will further bolster Olmert's chances of staying in power. Peretz and his supporters have the most to lose from new elections, so he has essentially committed Ayalon to staying in the government - even if the latter has been coy about admitting as much in public.
Did anyone else notice the English headline of Mikhal Grinberg's article on the Ayalon-Peretz combination, which cited Peretz as saying that "Ayalon and I together appeal to all ethnic groups"? The term "ethnic groups" is probably confusing for foreign readers, especially for those who speak of Israel as an "ethnocracy." At first I thought that the phrase was a translation of the word עדה ['edah] or its plural עדות ['edot], literally "communities," which is used to refer to various groups in Israeli society. Thus, 'edot ha-mizrakh are the "communities of the orient," etc. I have also heard someone on the radio giving a shout-out to ha-'edah ha-Tsharkessit [the Circassian community], which means that the term no longer refers only to the various Jewish "ethnicities." But the original Hebrew article did not use this word at all; rather, it referred to מגזרים [migzarim], lit. "sectors." In Israel, the word sector is most often used when referring to Arabs or the religious: people frequently talk of המגזר הערבי [the Arab sector] or המגזר החרדי/הדתי [the haredi/religious sector]. Needless to say, this is quite different from "ethnicity."
The other stabilizing factor for Olmert is Peres's candidacy for the presidency. A few months ago, most people would probably have picked MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), a widely respected parliamentarian, as the favorite in this race. But Peres is campaigning hard, and he has managed to secure the support of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and therefore of Shas. Who knows what deals were made to score these votes. He is also recruiting other MKs. A while ago, Rivlin made some remarks to the effect that the post of the presidency should go to the most qualified person rather than the most prestigious one. Perhaps he's right, but Peres remains the darling of European statesmen and media people (few of them have probably kept up with his move from Labor to Kadima - for them, he is still the Oslo man); this should be an asset for Israel. Colette Avital (Labor), unfortunately, will finish third, if she decides to run at all.
In any case, Peres is a stabilizer because he is desperate for votes and needs Olmert's support. His own backing of the Prime Minister during Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni's quasi coup attempt is paying dividends. The election of Rivlin, on the other hand, would be a clear blow against Olmert. The Likud members will certainly vote for him, as will the national religious camp. Ra'am Ta'al's chairman, MK Ibrahim Sarsur recently listed conditions for its backing: promises to release Arab Israeli security prisoners and support for a two-state solution (Ha'aretz). Interestingly enough, however, two of the MKs of his faction, Ahmad Tibi and Talab El-Sana have so far supported Rivlin. Every vote counts, and the Arab parties have ten among them.