Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by E. Rauchberger

Battling Over the Inheritance

As the elections come close, no one from the Labor party, including Barak himself, still believes that he has a chance of winning the upcoming elections. Now all people are wondering is how wide Sharon's margin of victory will be. Recent efforts that have been concentrated on damage control, trying to limit the extent of the defeat as much as possible.

The Labor party is worried over the possibility of the worst defeat since the early days of the country, when Ben Gurion routed Menachem Begin hands down. Sharon is currently leading in the polls with 50 percent, with 30-something percent for Barak. The remainder are blank votes. Not counting the blank votes, which are legally invalid, the results come to more than 60 percent for Sharon and less than 40 percent for Barak. This can no longer be called a defeat or even a rout, but rather a humiliating landslide.

Another question that weighs heavily on senior Labor party officials is what Barak will do in the aftermath of the elections. Will he announce he is taking a break, like Binyamin Netanyahu did, or will he stay in the ring and try to fight for the throne? According to best guesses, Barak is no Netanyahu and he will not resign. His ego will not allow him to do so, and furthermore Barak is convinced that he is not to blame for the political situation that has come about: According to him, he and his government took all the right steps and made almost no mistakes. He implemented the platform outlined by his party and by the Left, and he truly believes that the real problem is the public, along with a slight public relations problem, perhaps.

If Barak does not resign, many party members will call for early primaries to remove Barak from his post. Some claim Burg, Beilin, Ramon and the rest of their circle would prefer that Sharon win by as big a margin as possible, because the greater the gap, the better the chances of ousting Barak.

In the event that Barak chooses to fight to maintain his political standing, the main question is what will Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami do? Ben Ami has already announced that he does not intend to run against Barak, but will support him. The question is whether these sentiments will remain after the defeat, or whether that also depends on the margin of defeat, since a different set of principles applies to a defeat of up to 5-6 percent and a defeat of 15 percent or more.

Recently Shlomo Ben Ami has spent long hours in meetings with party officials, party field workers, heads of local party offices and influential party members. In effect Ben Ami has already begun his own primaries for the party leadership. Are these preparations being made in the event that Barak stays in the game, or only for a campaign against Burg and other possible contenders? It is still too early to tell.

Another matter of uncertainty is if Barak chooses to resign, will he also resign from the Knesset, as Netanyahu did after his defeat, or will he remain a Knesset member, like Yitzhak Rabin in 1977 or Yitzhak Shamir in 1992?

Barak has a big problem with the option of resigning from the Knesset, since the next name on the One Israel list is Gesher's leading figure, Motti Meshani. Gesher now consists of two MK's, David and Maxim Levy. Meshani's entry into the Knesset in place of Barak will automatically add another Knesset member to Sharon's camp and will increase the number of Knesset members in the event of a narrow coalition. Certainly Barak would not like to see this happen even if he is out.

Vilna'i in the Running

The names mentioned in connection with Barak's legacy are Burg, Ramon, Beilin and Ben Ami, and perhaps Uzi Baram as well. Last week Matan Vilna'i also announced that he intends to join this list and will run for Labor party head.

Apparently Burg, Ramon and Beilin will not run against one another. They are too close to contend against one another in a direct run-off, and a split between them could work in favor of their leading rival, Shlomo Ben Ami. This threesome will have to decide who will run. The other two will offer their support, with a place reserved for them in the upper echelons of a future government.

In all likelihood, the candidate will be Knesset Chairman Avraham Burg. He is currently the most popular of the three and he has the best chances both inside and outside of the party. Beilin, who is aware of his standing, will come to terms with his selection without any problem. For Chaim Ramon, however, this will not be so easy. As the former senior member of the bunch, he will find it difficult to watch Burg overtake him and get appointed party chairman and prime ministerial candidate.

Tension between Ramon and Burg can already be felt. They have already begun to fight over the spoils, but close figures point out that the chances of them contending against one another are extremely slim. Eventually one of them will be chosen, with the scales currently tipped in Burg's favor.

The possible compromise solution is that Burg would agree to hold additional primaries before the next elections, just as Sharon, when he was elected Likud chairman after Netanyahu resigned, announced that primaries would be held before the elections regardless. And a primary race was, in fact, held, although Sharon was eventually elected without primaries, since the only candidate who ran against him was Binyamin Netanyahu, who withdrew his candidacy at the last moment. Such a solution could put Ramon at ease, because if Burg's standing deteriorates before the next elections and his own standing improves, he will be able to replace Burg as Labor's candidate for prime minister.

Matan Vilna'i did not decide to run because he believes he has no chance of winning and becoming Labor chairman-- Vilna'i is not a complete fool. He is familiar with the political map and he knows that with fierce opponents like Shlomo Ben Ami, Burg, and even Uzi Baram, he has no real chance.

So why has he announced his candidacy? The answer is that Vilna'i is facing a tough problem. As soon as Sharon sets up his government, assuming it is not a unity government, Vilna'i, who is not a member of Knesset, will be left without a job and will forced to seek employment. In such a case, by the time the next elections come around he will be entirely forgotten by the Labor party and his chances of being chosen for a high and respectable place in the next Knesset primaries will be reduced significantly.

The solution is to run for the party leadership. This will fix him firmly in the heads of party members, will give him publicity, and will keep him in the limelight for the next several months. The results will be unimportant, compared to the fact of his participation and the long-range benefits.

Yossi Beilin also has problems of his own, since he is not a Knesset member either. Unlike Vilna'i, Beilin, with his strong character, has other ways of staying in the public eye, and in any case, as the next elections approach, in the primaries, Beilin's close friends, Ramon and Burg will make sure to secure him a good, safe spot. Furthermore, if Burg or Ramon is elected prime minister, neither one would leave a wounded comrade lying on the battlefield and Beilin's place at the government's table would be ensured.

But Beilin is looking for a way to exert his influence right now, as well, and his goal is to become general-secretary of the Labor party. If a new party chairman is chosen, and certainly if the new chairman is Ramon or his friend Burg, they will try to replace the current general secretary, Ra'anan Cohen. In that case Beilin would become the leading candidate, although Ra'anan Cohen, who would invariable try to retain his post, would put up a tough fight.

Whoever holds the post of general secretary of the Labor party receives an important bonus: His place on the Knesset list is locked up in seventh place. He does not have to run in the primaries, does not have to set up an election campaign or political camps, does not have to chase after bigwigs who command large constituencies and does not have to spend money or expend energy. Straight from the general secretary's office to a seat in the Knesset.

A peculiar party

The Meimad Movement, part of the One Israel Movement, decided last week to grant its members freedom of choice in the upcoming prime ministerial elections. A proposal to show support for the movement's leading figure, Ehud Barak, failed to receive approval.

The political system, by nature, is full of surprises. It is a system of strange and unpredictable developments. But such a bizarre and extraordinary decision has probably never been seen in our neck of the woods, and certainly not for many years.

Meimad is an inseparable part of One Israel, its representative is a government minister, it does not withdraw or yield its place, and yet in the greatest of all tests, the elections, it has decided on a free vote. The kind of decision that truly defies logic.

In fact everything associated with Meimad is enigmatic. Any religious people, especially those who hold the title of "Rabbi," who join the One Israel party--the party that led the initiative for the secular revolution, the party that ran a tremendous campaign against yeshiva students and the Torah world, the party notorious for its left-wing, anti- religious platform--commit an act that is beyond explanation. Shatnez. So who are we to pick bones over another decision, as peculiar as it may be? A strange party makes strange decisions.

The figure who led Meimad's opposition against supporting Barak is secretariat chairman, HaRav Yehuda Gilad. Meimad chairman, former minister HaRav Yehuda Amital, is also firmly against showing support for Barak. Amital lodged harsh criticism against the partnership with Barak and expressed his utter disappointment. "The partnership with One Israel and with Ehud Barak is dead," he proclaimed.

The figure who seems to have trouble coming to terms with the obvious need to part with Barak as quickly as possible is presently serving as a government minister, none other than Michael Melchior. Melchior was the one who tried to gain approval for the decision to show support for Barak in the elections, but his proposal failed to win a majority.

In a press release issued by Melchior the day after the decision was made, he expressed apprehension over a Sharon- led government, which "would contradict Jewish values and risk the chances of achieving peace." Such outlandish statements are not heard every day. The damage Barak has caused to kodshei Yisroel and to Yiddishkeit is virtually irreparable. What could be further from Jewish values than the secular revolution Barak promulgated? Sharon, even if he does not promote Yiddishkeit, has no intention to harm it. A secular revolution or something similar does not appear anywhere on his agenda.

But from Melchior's perspective, apparently everything passed down from the throne is holy and is rendered kosher, including pointless babble about a more severe blow to kodshei Yisroel under Sharon than under Barak.

In the same press release Melchior also boasts about the letter he received from Amos Oz, a Meretz supporter and known leftist, in which he asked him to prevent Meimad from withdrawing from One Israel. According to the well-known saying, a man is measured by the company he keeps. In Melchior's case, it seems, his words are clear.

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