…in this country. Socialist Amir Peretz has just taken the leadership of the Labor Party away from perennial loser/darling of the international community Shimon Peres. Just about anything could happen now, from early elections to a collapse of the unity government, to a broader rightwing coalition. This may come as a surprise, but I’m not nearly as bothered by this as one might think. Peretz is a bread and butter socialist, he’s concerned with economic and social equality, but he isn’t a psychopathic peacenik or a pie in the sky one-worlder, although at times he can sound like one. Folks like Yossi Beilin and Avraham Burg are far more disturbing in terms of security and the peace process. Fortunately, Burg is out of politics and Beilin is ensconced in Meretz, a leftist wingnut party permanently stuck at around ten Knesset seats. Now, the prospect of Meretz being part of a leftwing coalition is problematic, but we’re a long way from that. As for Peretz himself, I do think he would be a disaster for Israel’s economy, but even if he managed to gain the Prime Ministership (which I doubt) he wouldn’t have a wide enough coalition to radically change the country’s economic direction.
The most interesting thing about this is the fact that Peretz is a Sephardi Jew. This is the first time – with the exception of the short tenure of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer – that the quintessential party of the Ashkenazi elite has had a Sephardi chairman. Moreover, Peretz is openly the man of “second Israel”, the Israel of the development towns and the poorer sectors of the economy, who have traditionally been Likud voters. It remains to be seen if Peretz can get second Israel to vote for him, but if he can, it will be a sea change of immense proportions in the makeup and constituency of Israel’s oldest party.