From Ynet News, 18 January 2011, by Nir Cohen:
Professors offer in depth analysis of Labor Party's fall from grace. From its origins as workers' party, Ben-Gurion's rise to power, divisions, leaders, succession, through to loss of voter confidence and Barak's resignation
The Labor Party and political system were left in shock Monday as Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced Monday that he was resigning from the Labor Party together with four of the faction's members, a move first revealed on Ynet.
Some see the move as the end of the party that was for generations, the ruling party in Israel, one that actually founded the State. In a talk with Ynet, historians of Israeli politics explain what and who brought about the rise and fall of the Labor Party. Barak is really not the only responsible party.
"Mapai, which would one day become the Labor Party, was the dominant party in the days of the British mandate and the days before the establishment of the State Israel, from the time of David Ben-Gurion's victory over Jabotinsky in 1938 in the elections at the 18th congress," Professor Yechiam Weitz, an expert on Israeli politics at Haifa University recalls.
"Two aspects made it the dominant party: Its pragmatism which placed it at the center of the political dialogue and the party's ability to absorb people from both the working and middle classes."
In the professor's opinion, the pragmatic outlook "was expressed in their ability to continue a dialogue in the face of the changing reality. This was led by Ben-Gurion who until the 1966 Lavon affair changed the party's stance time and again, adapting it to the reality shifts. It started with the 1946 partition plan and continued in his ability to change his stance within 24 hours on the Sinai withdrawal issue."...
Historian Professor Yossi Goldstein agrees that if not for Ben-Gurion's ability to see one step ahead of the ever changing reality, the Labor Party's decline would have begun a long time ago. "From the day Ben-Gurion first won the elections, his greatness was in his ability to analyze the reality," he states, "he also represented only a small sector in society, but he knew how to make the reality work for him, his successors, Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol also had that talent."
... Professor Goldstein believes that the person responsible for the Labor's Party current situation is Shimon Peres who "failed to look into the future. The Labor Party had historical rights and an outstanding leader at the helm (Ben-Gurion) and yet it hasn't represented a central sector of Israel's society for years."
'Peres became political joke'
He adds: "Mapai and the Labor Party which was its successor represented a sector that was suitable to the 20s and 30s of the twentieth century – famers and laborers. And yet Israeli society was always composed of a middle class. From the 70s the party was being carried on the wings of change leaving the memories of past kindnesses and Ben-Gurion's charisma, and that of his successors – Meir, Eshkol and even Rabin during his second term, behind."
Professor Weitz also points a finger in Peres' direction. "...that is Shimon Peres' political heritage."
He believes that Peres was the one who determines that the Labor Party must always be in power. "He became a political joke because he was willing to accept any insult in order to be part of the government. Barak's decision two years ago to join the Netanyahu government was a death blow to the party, but he wasn't alone in making the decision, the fact is, a majority of party members made that decision. Today it is clear that Tzipi Livni was right, politically speaking – you should never become a government third wheel."
As for resigning from the party, Goldstein believes that Barak's move was a wise one: "The segment in society and the values that the Labor Party represents are that of a party with a socio-economical outlook represented by people like Shelly Yachimovich, a social-democratic party with a number of mandates that suits its representation in Israeli society.
"Which is why both Barak and Peres did right when they tried to be part of the coalition at any price, they knew that otherwise the party would be wiped out. The Labor Party isn't a contender for power because it doesn't represent a large enough sector of Israeli society and it has no chance of revival in the opposition."
No room for Labor
And what of the future? Goldstein is pessimistic. "I'm no prophet, but in today's political situation I fail to see the possibility of a Labor Party revival."
Since it joined the political map, he explains, Kadima took most of the Labor Party's voters. "Kadima shares the Labor Party's ideals in both the political and social front, it appeals to a much larger sector in Israeli society – there is simply no room for the Labor Party.
Goldstein adds that "even the power of inertia that carried the Labor Party through to this day has run out. A charismatic leader, or someone with renewed drive like Amram Mitzna could very well save the party, but I find it hard to believe that it will ever be able to reproduce its glory days."
Professor Weitz shares the pessimistic view. "In 2004 Labor joined the Sharon government, and Shimon Peres became vice prime minister. It was a distinguished role, but lacking in substance and Peres took it so that he would be able to be part of the government. Those are the political genes that Peres left for the Labor Party. You can absorb all the shame – as long as you stay in government."