One thing about Israeli politics is that its practitioners don’t hold back. They let you know what they think. For example, a member of the Knesset for the Kadima party, Orit Zuaretz, is reported to have said
The prime minister is stirring in the dark and the Labor movement is revealed as naked spineless, invertebrate mollusks… — Jerusalem Post
Whew. Can you imagine what she says to her kids when they are slow in doing their homework?
This has to do with Ehud Barak, former leader of the Labor party, who is Defense Minister in the present coalition government. On Monday he left the Labor Party and started his own party, to be called ‘atzmaut‘ (independence). Of course he gets to remain in the Knesset, the government and his ministerial position even though nobody voted for Ehud Barak — they voted for ‘Labor’ and he was at the top of its list. As you can imagine, the Naked Spineless Invertebrate Mollusk — er, Labor — Party is irritated.
Barak took four other Labor MKs with him, and the remaining 8 will leave the government. But Netanyahu’s coalition will still have a majority of 66 seats (out of 120) and will continue in power.
Apparently the move was precipitated by demands from some Labor members that the party should vote to leave the government because Netanyahu wasn’t moving fast enough (that is, wasn’t making the concessions demanded by the Obama administration) in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Barak wanted to keep his position, the second most important post in the government.
This further marginalizes the increasingly marginal Labor Party. But given that they apparently still believe that the path to peace runs through concessions — they learned nothing from the Intifada and the Gaza withdrawal — they deserve to be marginalized. Now it’s possible that the party will splinter further, with some Labor MKs joining Kadima on its right or Meretz on its Left.
Barak, not a very attractive character in some respects, at least has the military experience needed for his job, unlike the last Labor Defense Minister, the unbelievable Amir Peretz — who gave birth to a whole genre of jokes about x-ray vision when he pretended to see out of a pair of binoculars without removing the lens caps.
Zuaretz and other Kadima members would have liked to see Labor bring down the government, or at least reduce its margin to a paper-thin one seat by quitting en masse. Then Kadima would be the logical replacement for Labor in the coalition. Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, could even share the PM job with Netanyahu. Barak’s clever if cynical maneuver, probably in cooperation with his old Army buddy Netanyahu — hence the ‘stirring in the dark’ comment — prevented this.
And you thought American politics was complicated!
Incidentally, the ‘other’ Barack — Obama — is thought to want to bring about a change in the coalition with Kadima taking the leading role, because he thinks it will be more pliant about making concessions to the Arabs than the present Likud-led government. But that isn’t in the cards today.