What’s the deal with Shelly Yachimovich?

Despite a recent rise in the polls, Labor’s leader seems determined to follow failed policies of former party leaders.

As the Labor Party under Shelly Yachimovich rises in the polls, many observers are wondering whether the journalist-turned-politician could be the leader that the center-left camp is searching for, one that could challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the ideological and electoral front.

Labor is now polling 25 seats. A similar result in the general election would be the party’s best since 1999, when Ehud Barak led it. Yachimovich differs from Netanyahu on her economic views, and she was so far able to capitalize on the desire for better social services and the resentment of the neo-liberalism that is at the center of the J14 movement (“the tent protest”). It’s easy to see why many see the promise in Yachimovich.

Still, these are not the nineties. Changes in the Israeli electorate and political circumstances present a new challenge of left-of-center leaders who truly want to affect policy. So far, Yachimovich has not been able to rise to it, nor does she show any desire to try. Her response to right-wing tendencies in the Jewish public is a vulgar ideological shift to the right.

In a recent statement, Yachimovich didn’t rule out joining Netanyahu’s next government. “It would be foolish of me to veto potential coalition partners,” she said. Yachimovich used the same argument all Labor leaders in the past decade had when they joined right-wing coalitions: stating that she wants to make labor “part of the decision making process.”

This is what Ehud Barak said when he joined Netanyahu’s coalition, what Shimon Peres and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said under Sharon. In all the above cases, left-leaning voters ended up seeing their elected representatives serving as a buffer against local and international criticism of right-wing policies.

Yachimovich supported accreditation of the new university in Ariel, claiming that Israeli governments treated Ariel in the past as part of Israel, and therefore there is little point in treating them as “outsiders” now. It’s a message that could have opened a door to radical, out-of-the-box views of the situation in the West Bank, if it was accompanied by a vision regarding the status of the Palestinian population. But Yachimovich is all but ignoring the occupation. When asked about her vision regarding the future of the territories east of the Green Line, she pays lip service to the Clinton Parameters (as long as Israel keep the large settlements blocs). To be honest, I don’t remember any leader from the center of the Israeli political map which showed so little interest in the Palestinian issue. Not Livni, not even Barak.

Yachimovich has never put the anti-democratic legislation as a major part of her political agenda. The alienation of Palestinian citizens doesn’t bother her. In her latest book, “Us” (אנחנו), she hardly mentions them. Her preferred term in describing political adversaries and their policies is “anti-Zionists.” Her message on the effect of big business interests on the Israeli economy is well suited for the zeitgeist, but she obviously lacks a comprehensive, holistic perception of the fundamental challenges facing Israelis today. Even Yachimovich’s one quality that is worthy of certain admiration – her refusal to bash the Orthodox – seems more like the result of smart political calculations, rather than ideology.