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Confetti drops as Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich stands on stage during an event to mark the end of the party campaign in Tel Aviv, Jan. 17, 2013. (צילום: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Israeli Labor Party MK argues Yachimovich is no team player

המחבר: מזל מועלם

“A leader has to know how to work with his people, push them ahead and not compete with them. But [Knesset member (MK) and head of the Labor Party] Shelly Yachimovich is like the basketball player who wants to score all the points himself, and that is not the way to win a championship.” Using analogies from the world of sports, this is how MK Erel Margalit described Yachimovich’s leadership style. 

בקצרההדפיס Labor Party MK Erel Margalit opposes Chair Shelly Yachimovich's leadership, arguing that she has failed to garner the support of the industrial sector and lead a strong opposition socioeconomic agenda.

Margalit is one of the engines pushing MK Isaac (Buji) Herzog, who will try on Nov. 21 to unseat Yachimovich. An additional player is MK Eitan Cabel as well as MK Merav Michaeli, who joined their camp recently. Margalit, too, is a Knesset freshman, but he went into politics from the top echelons of business entrepreneurship, with a well-formulated plan to reach the pyramid’s top. He has not buried his aspiration, but has put his plan on hold. For now, he is fully committed to Herzog’s victory, enjoying the team play. 

It is a tight race. Yachimovich found herself caught up in this power struggle after failing to lead the party to significant achievements in the January Knesset elections, and by virtue of the antagonism she generates among large groups in the party and her extreme centralization. But she is putting up a fight. She has a camp, and she is the incumbent leader, meaning that she controls the party apparatus — a great advantage in an internal runoff.

MK Erel Margalit

To a large extent, this is a battle between what was considered a social trend in the last elections, a breath of fresh air in the old political arena — which failed — and the classic Herzog-style grassroots politics, without shortcuts, that is often perceived as petty politics. A Herzog victory would be a failure of the new, fashionable politics, which failed to deliver on its great promise. This currently applies to Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett as well. 

But the public does not really care who heads the Labor Party, which has not been a viable leadership alternative for many years — neither from within government, according to the model of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, nor from the opposition benches, according to Yachimovich’s model.

Why Labor and why Herzog, I asked Margalit. He ignored the cynicism and responded thoughtfully and in detail that he believes the Labor Party has a role to play in Israeli society and that it will go back to being society’s mainstream. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman lost in the last elections, but we were not there to win,” he said.

Unlike Yachimovich, Herzog knows how to work in cooperation with others, Margalit explained. “Yachimovich divided the younger and older members, the center from the periphery, the Arabs and the kibbutzim, and everything was about polarization, divide and rule. Herzog does things differently. One of the reasons he’s relevant today is that he is a unifying, not a divisive force. Before the party can bring back all those voters who moved over to Lapid and the Meretz Party, it first needs to unite itself. Yachimovich tried to create a party within a party.”

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Al-MonitorThat bad? 

Margalit:  Totally. For Yachimovich, financial success is a red rag. She has turned high fliers into enemies. She scares the entire business sector. She frightens those who have made it. A society that excludes excellence is an unjust society. A society which harnesses excellence is one in which change will take place. 

The business sector also needs to change its ways, but it feels under attack by the Labor Party chair. People in Israel care. True, there is piggishness in Israeli business, but the business sector can be harnessed to affect social change.

Al-Monitor:  Give me an example.

Margalit:  It was very obvious in the Teva [pharmaceutical company] affair. She stood on the Knesset dais, ranted against the company and attacked the CEO. You cannot talk to Teva as though you are a ruler talking to his subjects: do this, don’t do that. The moral imperative of addressing Teva loses its validity if you give it orders. She made a mistake in this case. Teva is not the enemy. In the end, this hurts the employees. We, on the other hand, want Teva to make new investments in Israel. If we reward the company, it will invest in the populations that we would like to see enter the workforce. But how can we do that if we attack the company and throw tomatoes at its CEO?

Al-MonitorYou are a wealthy success story. Did you feel this toward yourself, too?

Margalit:  Yes, toward me, too. Heads of hospital departments and school principals also feel that she’s against them. I am an entrepreneur who established more companies than any other Israeli entrepreneur, but she caused her people to shout, “He has money.” That’s what counts? The money or the things I’ve done? I have a problem with this type of rhetoric. Generally, I think one cannot build an alternative through anger or hate, only through hope.

Al-Monitor:  And Yachimovich doesn’t provide hope? The fact is that young people followed her.

Margalit:  Where exactly does she provide hope? Hope is to take social injustice and offer an alternative. What hope does she hold out on the diplomatic front? 

Within the party there’s a sense that you cannot speak out. There is no cooperation, no discussions. In the Knesset, she heads an opposition that doesn’t want to hand her the keys to an alternative leadership. This is not a constructive opposition. 

I am asking: Why is there no shadow government, why is there no clear alternative? It’s too bad because the Labor Party is full of positive people who are very active in the Knesset. But instead of having a chair who enjoys the fact that there are people with all sorts of abilities and harnesses them to a platform, she competes with those who succeed within her party.

Al-MonitorIf Herzog is chosen, will you join the government?

Margalit:  If Netanyahu opts for a daring move, the Labor Party should consider it. Netanyahu came with a very problematic agenda, both in terms of diplomacy and in terms of society. But I want the Labor Party to wield influence — from the outside or inside — on economic issues, to present a somewhat different diplomatic agenda.

Al-MonitorAnd what will you do if Yachimovich wins?

Margalit:  She will not win. We will. That’s already clear from the field.

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מזל מועלם
בעל/ת טור 

מזל מועלם היא פרשנית באתר אל-מוניטור לנושאים פוליטיים, וחברתיים פנים ישראליים.

בין השנים 2011-2003 היא שימשה ככתבת הפוליטית של עיתון הארץ, ולאחר מכן הצטרפה למעריב, ככתבת הפוליטית הבכירה וכבעלת טור פוליטי שבועי. במקביל מזל מועלם מגישה תוכנית טלוויזיה שבועית בנושאים חברתיים בערוץ הכנסת.

מזל מועלם היא ילידת מגדל העמק, והחלה את הקריירה העיתונאית שלה במהלך שירותה הצבאי ככתבת במחנה.
היא בעלת תואר שני בלימודי בטחון (במסגרת החוג למדעי המדינה) מאוניברסיטת תל אביב.

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