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Ben Eliezer: A Lack of Leadership

03 November 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Former defense minister Benyamin Ben Eliezer may be a leader in the Labor Party but he is not a leader of national standing.  He quit the National Unity Government supposedly over budget issues but everyone knows his real agenda is the primary battle he is facing against Amram Mitzna and Haim Ramon, both of whom demand Labor leave the NUG.  Trailing in third place in the polls may be unpleasant and one could certainly lose the primary race, but then true leaders are willing to stake their beliefs against the possibility of not being elected ‘party’ leader for the moment.

Ben Eliezer chose two hot issues, funding for settlements across the 1967 boundaries and yeshiva budgets as his targets, and good targets they are, since most Israelis feel these sectors are favored over the average person.  More so they know such budgets can be used for alleviating poverty or for industrial investment. 

But as they say ‘timing is everything’ and Ben Eliezer chose his moment far too close to the Labor primaries in two weeks.  Only with his back against the wall and a knife against his throat did he decide to leave the government, much against his own wishes.  Had he been a true leader he would have taken issue over the budget months ago.

A true leader would have faced his party opponents down at the Labor convention and all through the voting process, and even if he were to lose he would be credible enough to fight another day.  PM Sharon did exactly that not long ago when he advocated a Palestinian state at the Likud convention.  He believes this to be one of the components of a solution to the conflict and will not be bulldozed into a partisan party position just to satisfy the Likud delegates.  It is yet to be seen if Sharon lost support to Netanyahu because of his stance, although he certainly gained credibility on the national level.

Labor has shifted leftwards even if much of the rank and file has not.  Those Laborites advocating the NUG will take a beating possibly bringing about a new leadership who would never consider working with the Likud.  This could certainly be the case should Mitzna be elected party chairman.  Ramon is another case.

The Labor resignation will lead to the establishment of a short term narrow unstable right wing government and add a political crisis to the consistent security and economic woes being faced.  And everyone in Labor knows it.  At least Haim Ramon has called on the PM to agree to new elections at the earliest possible date to avoid such instability.

True leaders operate on the level of national interests putting party maneuvering second.  Labor must put an end to Ben Eliezer’s leadership and then work with the Likud to decide on the earliest possible date for new elections.  Sharon is keenly aware the last thing Israel needs is an unstable far right wing government with heavy ultra-orthodox input.