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The politician who can save Israel’s Labor Party

If the party still wishes to play a major role in Israeli politics, it needs to elect a leader who can fit in with the new standards. We're not talking about Yachimovich

by David Fogel

May 28, 2013 | 9:44 am

It's still too early to celebrate, but – at the moment – it seems that Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett are changing the rules of the game, and that their parties are about to plant their stakes deep into the heart of Israeli politics. It seems that Lapid's Yesh Atid and Bennett's Bayit Yehudi are far from being political fads which will disappear after a single term, and may even – in the not so distant future – replace the two historical parties – Likud and Ha'avoda (Labor).
 
But whereas I wouldn't rush to eulogize Benjamin Netanyahu, to my understanding, Shelly Yachimovich is a lost case. When it comes to politics, Yachimovich is the most obvious proof that it's all personal. You can argue about economic policy, you can discuss the question of Jerusalem, but – in the end – it always boils down to a leader's personality.
 
There are leaders who are loved, leaders who are hated, and leaders who are despised. At times, hate turns into love (in the case of Ariel Sharon, for example), but a despised leader is doomed (Ehud Barak, for one). Yachimovich is simply despised by a good portion of the voters. Whether or not she has earned it is not the issue here.
 
Shelly Yachimovich. The public doesn't like her. Photo by Israel Mark Salem
 
The Labor Party is caught in an embarrassing situation, and most of its senior members are aware of the immense danger of Yachimovich ongoing leadership. The leader of the opposition is aware of her situation as well, and it is therefore no surprise that she is doing everything in her power to hold swift internal primary elections and catch her competitors off guard.
 
Yachimovich is smart. She knows who she's dealing with. Bougie Herzog, Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit are not likely to give up the fight to head the Labor Party. She is also counting on the fact that the three are not likely to unite in support of the candidacy of any one of them. So splitting the votes will serve her and may provide her with a definite recipe for victory. In other words, in the current situation Yachimovich has a good shot at winning, and the Labor Party – to reach its end.
 
But there's another option: under the pressure of clear eyed party members, who understand this may be the last chance for the Labor Party to become a real player in the political arena once again, and in certain circumstances – to lead the country – all three will unite to support a single candidate. It's hard to believe, but the Labor Party has such a candidate, who is readily available. 
 
He is very remindful of Lapid: smart, successful, not a wheeler-dealer, even good looking. I don't know Margalit personally, but it seems that a rich man who leaves everything behind only to tour the entire country in order to change the face of his party is made of the right stuff. I don't want to get carried away with tall superlatives, but there is no doubt that this is exactly the fresh start this tired party needs.
 
Erel Margalit reminds me of Yair Lapid. Photo by Israel Mark Salem
 
I have a feeling it won't be difficult to convince Cabel that he should step aside. I believe he is one of those candidates who is satisfied with simply being a candidate. The problem is with Bougie Herzog – he is a wheeler-dealer in the most positive sense of the word. His political activity is imbued with self sacrifices and he truly loves his work. But, in the end, that is all he is – a wheeler-dealer – and politicians of the new kind cannot be elected for national leadership on the basis on wheeling and dealing.
 
Simply said: it's all up to Bougie. If he insists on running, there is a good chance that Yachimovich will win once again. If he steps aside, there is a good chance that Margalit will pull a surprise and even win. And if he does win, it will be an interesting fight. Because Margalit and Lapid will have to present their world views regarding all the critical issues in Israeli politics. One worldview vs. another – as opposed to one image vs. another. 
 
David Fogel is Chairman of Fogel-Ogilvy
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