Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Labor Party Facing Crucial Policy Decision on Where It is Going

November 27, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

With the Labor Party due–at the Premier’s insistence–to hold a long-postponed but obviously needed post-war internal debate tomorrow and with the Knesset elections still due to be held on Dec. 31, the Party and, therefore, the country has come to a major crossroad. The very essence of its leadership–both policy-wise and personality-wise–will to a large extent be decided in this internal debate. Golda Meir has finally decided to challenge in open combat her critics, the critics of her Defense Minister and the critics of the Meir-Dayan-Galili policies. They have been murmuring and grumbling increasingly within the Party ever since the Yom Kippur War broke out. Mrs. Meir has demanded a frank, full-scale debate so that “we know what kind of a party we have and what it stands for.”

The fate and future of the country’s foreign and defense policy hinge on the outcome of Labor’s deliberation because, no matter what success the Likud opposition may have in the elections, no one–not even Menachem Beigin–is thinking in terms of a post-election government without Labor. Likud’s declared aim is to gain such substantial support as to make itself indispensable in any coalition and thus force, in effect, a government of national unity which Golda Meir at present so bitterly opposes. Despite the traumas of war and peace, the Israeli electorate is not expected by even the most diehard rightists to swing totally away from Labor and towards the right. Who are the murmerers and grumblers within the Party, and what is their strength?

Political observers here discern four categories, One is the powerful Tel Aviv-based “Gush” the power core of ex-Mapai members which is formally led by Tel Aviv. Mayor Yehoshua Rabinowitz and whose members are still unswervingly loyal to Finance Minister and Party strongman Pinhas Sapir. But to an increasing degree the daily running of the “Gush” is in the hands of Avraham Ofer, the Knesset-member head of Histadrut’s Shikun Ovdim building company, and the Labor Party’s election campaign boss. The “Gush’s” traditional aim and function has always been to install its own people in key party positions. But Labor’s current soul-searching will force the “Gush” to take a stand on policy–and its stand will be all-important.

The “Gush” membership is certainly not exclusively dovish–but many leading doves–and especially Ofer himself, are key “Gush” men. “Dove” in the post-war context is a term which implies opposition to the Meir-Dayan-Galili triumvirate whose policies were Israel’s policies in the areas of defense and foreign affairs over the past few years. Does this mean that the “Gush” will, in the great debate, throw its immense weight behind the other party elements–themselves weak and poorly organized–that are calling, albeit faintly still, for a sweeping change at the top?

The answer seems to lie to a large extent with Sapir himself, Until now he has kept silent as the “war of the Jews” surges about him. He has busied himself raising fabulous sums from diaspora Jewry and running the wartime economy as best he can. But now he will have to speak out. Will he fail to give Mrs. Meir the solid support that has always ensured her unquestioned leadership? At the time of writing, this key question remains unanswered. Perhaps Sapir is still mulling it over. Three other “opposition” elements inside Labor will not wait upon Sapir or the “Gush” to speak out.

One group is led by Lyova Eliav, the prodigal son, the man who stepped down from the Party Secretariat-General in order to write his “Eretz Hatzvi” which has become the dove’s Bible. He spread it through Labor branches around the country and won considerable grass-roots support; how considerable no one knows. Perhaps the great debate will make this clear. Perhaps too the debate will show that Yitzhak Ben Aharon resigned from Histadrut last week to join, or even supersede Eliav as head of the doves. Another group is the young leadership, it its late 20s-30s, university-trained, left leaning, up-and-coming in the Party hierarchy, and dovishly inclined.

Lastly there is an amorphous group of Party members and sympathizers which has begun a public campaign aimed at replacing the Meir-Dayan-Galili team at the top. Advertisements in the press call upon anyone interested to come along to meetings, to write letters of support–with checks if possible–to a Tel Aviv post office box. The group boasts significant membership in the university and intellectual community. Its strength is not yet known but may be clarified in the coming days. Until now it had seemed that despite the post-war dissatisfaction, the various opposition groups would not dare raise their grievances in public–for the sake of the Party’s electoral image and chances of success. The hope was for intensive inner debates and perhaps leadership changes–after the elections. But now that Mrs, Meir herself has challenged her critics to come into the open, they can be expected to give voice to their feelings frankly, and perhaps even to demand changes at the top.

Since Sapir has always fought shy of responsibility in defense and foreign policy issues–and since these issues at this time are the crucial ones for Israel–the dovish opposition, If it does decide to speak out, may well turn to Yigal Allon as their candidate for the leadership. He has emerged from the war with his reputation not only untarnished, but actually enhanced. He was never partner to the pre-war policies which have proved misguided. Even if Sapir rallies to Mrs. Meir and the “Gush” decides to remain faithful to her and her team, the widespread dissatisfaction within the Party is expected to produce, at the very least, some significant changes in the Cabinet team which Labor will offer the electorate. Figures such as Rabin, Barlev, Ofer, Eliav, Yariv–figures not identified with the pre-war policy makers–will find themselves held up as suitable and necessary candidates for ministerial office.

Recommended from JTA