The Israeli Workers’ Party is a bit like the SPD. The “Avoda” is an aging giant that now has a certain routine to deal with defeat.
One who has never come to terms with this is Merav Michaeli. She has been an Israeli star on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for years. Now she is the new party leader of the “Avoda”.
The Israeli comrades voted Michaelmas into office with 77 percent of the vote. “I call on everyone who thinks that politics does not represent them and that their voices are not heard: come home,” said Michaeli publicly after her election.
The legacy that she is taking on is enormous: State founder David Ben-Gurion, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres and the chain-smoking Prime Minister Golda Meir – they have all already led the party.
The problem: The golden era of the left founding fathers and mothers is long over. The pioneers who were once the future are dead. So are your socialist ideas. Benjamin Netanyahu, a right-wing prime minister, has ruled the country without interruption since 2009, and there are now more start-ups than kibbutzim. The result: the party base has shrunk to 37,000 members, is getting angrier and angry and at the top there is coming and going like on a platform.
“Welcome to the worst job in Israeli politics”
“She is the tenth party leader in 20 years, not counting those who held the post twice,” commented the left-wing daily “Haaretz” on Merav Michaeli’s election victory. “Welcome to the worst job in Israeli politics.”
In the last three elections, the Avoda continued to crash, from six to five to three percent of the vote. In the latest polls, the comrades come back to six percent, which is no longer a catastrophic figure in the now completely fragmented party landscape.
A first Michaeli decision may have contributed to this turnaround: After her victory in the election for chairwoman, the 54-year-old called on the party opponents Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli to give up their posts in the Netanyahu government. The Avoda was previously represented in the government by these two ministers. The result:
Shmuli, a former student leader with political talent, actually resigned and has left politics for the time being.
Peretz, a veteran of the Avoda, would rather give up his decades of party membership than give up the post of Minister of Economics before the March election.
For Michaeli, the withdrawal from the right-wing government was a point victory in the internal power struggle. “She seeks an open exchange of blows with the party leadership, which is corrupted in the eyes of many supporters,” says Noam Zadoff, who teaches Israel Studies at the University of Innsbruck. “What is special and new, however, is that she does not apologize for being left-wing,” the professor continued.
“What’s new is that she doesn’t apologize for being leftist”
The 54-year-old has been in parliament since 2013 and considers Netanyahu to be “Israel’s biggest problem,” as she recently told the daily Maariv. Her political messages are particularly popular in the urban environment of Tel Aviv. There are many academics and few workers there.
Until the mid-1990s they still voted for the Avoda, which was then headed by Yitzchak Rabin. The war hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner had a social conscience and spoke the language of common people. Then he was murdered by a right wing fanatic. It was the last political murder in Israel so far. Rabin is a role model for Michaelmas.
When she speaks to the Knesset, she gets noticed. The consciously childless politician, who is in a relationship with a well-known comedian, has been wearing black clothing for a few years.
This is also a conscious decision, which she explained in a TV interview in 2018 that her political messages should be in the foreground – not her clothes. In addition, the ex-journalist speaks differently than most Israelis. You changed. And always choose the feminine form in the plural, which is particularly noticeable in the Hebrew language, in which there is a masculine and a feminine form for the 3rd person plural.
And then Michaeli is also the granddaughter of Rezsö Kasztner, a man whose life and work are still causing emotions in Israel to this day. Kasztner belonged to the Zionist “Committee for Help and Rescue” in Hungary during the Second World War.
In 1944 he bought more than 1,500 Jews from the Nazis who were allowed to travel to Switzerland and thus escaped the concentration camps. He saved lives with it. After the war, Kasztner settled in Israel, where shortly afterwards he was publicly accused of collaborating with the Nazis. The case went to court. The responsible judge ordered Kasztner that he had “sold his soul to the devil”. Four years later, the left-wing politician was murdered in the street by a right-wing trio. It was the first political murder in the young state of Israel.
His granddaughter is asked about her grandfather’s life and work to this day. The focus is of course on her political work in the here and now, the fight for more women’s rights, for peace with the Palestinians and for a more social Israel with a minimum wage.
Ron Huldai only just had to find out how serious she is about the reorientation of the party. The longtime mayor of Tel Aviv was a member of the Labor Party for more than half his political life, where he belonged to the Realo wing. The 76-year-old never got involved in national politics. Until now.
The former fighter pilot founded his own party a few months ago. He wanted to run in the elections, defeat Netanyahu. When it became clear in the past few weeks that Huldai would not stand a chance with the voters, he patronizingly offered Michaeli a collaboration. It was the Merz moment in Israeli politics.
Michaeli refused. The base is happy. Whether the voters approve of this course will be shown on March 23. Then Israel will elect a new parliament for the fourth time in two years.
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