Several hundred olim packed into a trendy venue in South Tel Aviv for a question and answer session with the head of Israel’s opposition Isaac “Boujie” Herzog on Tuesday night. The audience were an impressive bunch of committed Zionists. One was a girl from Germany who spends her spare time volunteering at an old age home, another a South African olah who volunteers her spare time helping out African refugees, a question was asked by an American oleh who spends his time creating business opportunities for Israeli companies in the Arab world, the list goes on and on. The varied range of interests represented ensured that Boujie (as he told us to call him) was quizzed from a lot of different angles.
One of the things that he said was that he “considers Gush Etzion to be every bit as important as Tel Aviv.” I thought it to be quite a sensational thing to hear from the head of Israel’s largest left wing party. I found myself agreeing with him on many things that he said and I liked the informal way in which he said them. He surprised me again by swearing several times during his talk which I’ve never heard from a politician, Israeli or otherwise.
Boujie isn’t a big man, he stands at about 5”7 and is slight of stature. He has very big shoes to fill. His father worked his way through the ranks of the army to end up as a Major General and eventually served as President of the State of Israel. His grandfather was Israel’s first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, a PhD who spoke 13 languages and had served as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland before arriving in Israel. Boujie is named after him.
Big shoes to fill indeed.
But there’s a problem with Boujie, actually there are a few. The main one is that 5 minutes after he had finished talking I was struggling to remember anything concrete that he had really said. The man stood and he spoke, every word so civilised, the tone of voice always calm and sincere…and forgettable. One thing I do remember him saying is that he believes the refugees should be dispersed around the country rather than concentrated in a couple of overcrowded neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv. That’s fair enough but what really caught me was when he said “you see, I’m not going to be like certain other Members of Knesset, I’m not a populist about the issue.” The thing is that right now the Labor party could use a populist. Or at the very least a politician who’s genuinely popular.
There in a nutshell is one of the problems with Boujie, the leader of the opposition. Sometimes a politician really needs to be a populist. Sometimes if you don’t throw out a sound bite once in a while, if everything that you say is the long explanation of your whole idea then no one is going to remember what your message is. From hearing him I got the feeling that he won’t settle for one word when seven are needed. Over and above that he won’t be banging his fist on the table and screaming demands across the Knesset floor. These are the things that get noticed, reported and inspire people to come and hear what he has to say.
Let’s be frank, since Barak failed to make a peace deal happen the Labor party has been flailing around trying to find a way to stay relevant to the Israeli public. Without success. His answer was disappointing. Actually to say it was an answer is misleading. He spoke to me about the centre ground, he lamented about how there are currently one election parties who have taken votes from the Labor Party. He went on about how those votes are Labor’s natural constituency and how they need to get them back.
But I asked what he, personally was doing and he didn’t tell me.
Hearing that answer was the moment I understood that the Labor Party isn’t even close to becoming the primary party in Israeli politics once again. They still think that there is a population simply waiting to vote for them. They’re dead wrong. In fact it reeks of the kind of entitled, Ashkenazi corruption that served to end the Labor Party’s original grip on power. The reason that these one election parties have cropped up and stolen seats from Labor is because they don’t want to vote for Labor, specifically because Labor still has nothing to say.
I’m going to vote for Labor in the next election. I was always going to. I like Boujie, I think it’s probably very hard not to like the guy and I’m sure that his opponents like him also. But the truth is that you don’t get in politics to be liked, you get in politics to bring about change and I can’t think of a single thing that Boujie actually said he wants to change, just a lot of complicated problems that he doesn’t quite have the solutions to.
All of which begs the question; why on earth am I voting for this party? Well that answer deserves a post all of its own.