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A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Israeli Politics
By Kevin Filan

Labor

Haredim   |  Israeli Arabs   |  Likud   |  Labor   |  Nat. Religious Party   |  Shas

The original Zionists were more influenced by Marx than Torah; Israel's kibbutzim (collective farms) are among the most successful examples of Marxist philosophy put into practice. Early Zionists like Nachman Syrkin and Dov Ber Borochov sought to create a "Jewish Proletariat" in Palestine, while David Ben Gurion, considered the founding father of modern Israel, was an avowed Socialist. The Labor Party, formed by a 1968 coalition of various labor and Socialist parties, has always enjoyed widespread support. Indeed, until Menachem Begin's 1977 election, every Israeli Prime Minister came from Labor. While it has moved away from some of its earlier Marxist ideals (its present platform explicitly supports "free market principles"), the Labor Party still represents Israel's left wing mainstream.

The Labor Party continues to support the 1993 Oslo Accords, and advocates a total freeze on all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, including the expansion of current settlements. They also advocate a gradual approach privatization and reduction of government involvement in the economy, as opposed to more radical steps toward the free market. (Israel's economy relies heavily on government subsidies, particularly in farms and foodstuffs. Removing those subsidies would result in real hardships for Israelis who are already suffering from a contracting economy and a 10%+ unemployment rate. Still, few economists dispute that Israel's extensive system of government subsidies will need to be trimmed in the future, particularly if the economy continues on in its downward spiral). The Labor Party is also staunchly secular, opposing efforts by Orthodox parties toward stricter conversion requirements and vesting more power in the Orthodox Rabbinate.

Much as our own Republican or Democratic Parties, there are variations within the Labor Party itself. Avraham Burg is one of the more prominent doves. He has been involved with Peace Now since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, currently Israel's Defense Minister, is probably the most well-known member of Labor's right wing. He combines the Labor commitment to social welfare with a hawkish stance toward the Palestinians. Both covet the leadership position currently occupied by Labor's elder statesman, Shimon Peres. The ascent of either would signal a shift in Labor's positions toward the left or right, respectively.

While the Labor Party remains a force to be reckoned with, its star has been waning of late in Israel. Zionism's early devotion to manual labor has weakened with Israel's growing dependence on Palestinian and foreign workers. Less and less Israelis live on the Kibbutzim which once provided Labor with its core membership. Despite liberal government assistance and debt forgiveness, many of the remaining Kibbutzim are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and turning from Marxism to free enterprise in an attempt to survive. The ongoing Palestinian conflict has also eroded Israeli confidence in peaceful solutions, while infighting continues to hamper the Party. Labor's long history of success means that it has become the party of the status quo… which is not a good thing when everything appears to be on the edge of collapse.



 


Mike Doughty



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