With Amir Peretz's victory over Vice Premier Shimon Peres last week, the Labor Party has finally removed all its masks and officially embraced post-Zionism as its guiding ideology. By electing Peretz, the Labor Party of David Ben-Gurion has declined to the status of an anti-Zionist political party.
While Oslo and Labor's embrace of Yasser Arafat signaled Labor's inevitable embrace of the negation of Jewish nationalism, the party staved off its fate for the past six years by placing retired generals at the head of the party, such as Ehud Barak, Amram Mitzna, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Matan Vilna'i. They obfuscated their party's post-Zionist platform by prominently parading their past military achievements before the public.
But all that is now behind us. With Peretz's ascension to party leadership, Labor has become a post-nationalist, socialist party along the lines of Meretz under Yossi Beilin. Peretz began his political career in Peace Now, and achieved his first political prominence as a member of Yossi Beilin's crew of young, radical leftist Labor Party activists. Peretz has always contended that the only way to deal with terror is to capitulate to terrorists, and that there can only be peace if Israel expels all 250,000 of its citizens from Judea and Samaria, and divides sovereignty over Jerusalem.
After his victory, Peretz proclaimed that if he was elected prime minister, he would form a governing coalition with the anti-Zionist Arab political parties, effectively putting an end to Israel as a Zionist state.
It's a sign of the chaos into which Ariel Sharon has plunged the Likud that all of this seems to have escaped the attention of its members. Rather than pointing out the significance of Labor's descent into ideological bankruptcy, the Likud is squeamishly concerned about the electoral threat Peretz poses as a result of his economic demagoguery.
Likud leaders warn that Peretz's socialist populism will erode support among its voters from the lower socioeconomic strata. This is particularly the case, they claim, among Sephardic Jews, who have formed the bulwark of the party's faithful since the Likud's first national electoral victory under Menachem Begin in 1977.
As the Histadrut boss, Peretz has been the strongest opponent of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic liberalization reforms. Peretz has consistently opposed the privatization of government companies, the break-up of economic monopolies and cartels, the lowering of taxes, curbing the growth of the welfare system and the weakening of labor unions.
In opposing every single economic reform that has been enacted over the past decade, Peretz has led general strike after general strike, each of which has lost the economy billions of shekels, and led to countless lost jobs and economic opportunities for the very people he claims to protect.
The economic reforms that Peretz has so thuggishly opposed are the only reason that Israel was able, at the height of the Palestinian terror war, to move out of its recession and into a period of sustained economic growth, low unemployment and low interest rates. Yet Likud fears him because of the resonance of his calls for a reversion to the disastrous statist economy Netanyahu so bravely shepherded the country away from.
It is little wonder that the most emotional economic debates tend to revolve around envy. Headlines are annually made when the list of the richest Israelis and the top government salaries are made public. As a result, the deleterious effects of a state-run economy have never been properly understood. A populist, socialist bully like Peretz – who screams in defense of the rights of bloated workers' committees, and corrupt and incompetent public employees – can gain traction for his ludicrous one-liners only in such an intellectual desert.
In the absence of unity in the one area where it was previously strongest – namely, security – the Likud under Sharon now finds itself flailing about, madly looking for a way to show, not that Peretz is an anti-Zionist, but that, like him, the Likud, too, supports irresponsible populist economic policies.
Caroline Glick is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.