On Sept. 14, courtesy of Meretz USA’s ally, Ameinu (formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance), I attended a lunch-time meeting with MK Ephraim Sneh, the head of the Labor party faction in the Knesset. He is also a retired IDF general. My impression is that he has good values on social and economic matters, but is too rigid for my taste on security and peace issues. Along with a number of others, he must be regarded as a contender for the party leadership, now that Amir Peretz has been wounded by the Lebanon War.
By the way, he regards the war as a success — not a “smashing one,” yet a victory nevertheless. At the same time, he sees a “second round” as inevitable, because he sees Lebanon as having really been a proxy war with Iran but does not know where and how the next round will be fought – whether in Lebanon or elsewhere.
His priorities for Israel are threefold:
1) To close the “Palestinian file” – to end the conflict with the Palestinians by making a deal with Abbas. At the same time, and in a way that seems contradictory to this end, he favors continuing the boycott of Hamas. But – very much in line with Rabin’s thinking – as Rabin proclaimed in a gathering I attended with visiting foreign Zionists at the Knesset in the summer of 1995 – both envisioned that Israel’s chief security concern was/is the looming danger of Iran.
2) To rebuild the social services network, which Netanyahu’s budgetary policies have destroyed. A man of commanding presence, somewhere in his 60s, who likes to charm American audiences with a sprinkling of Yiddish and Yiddishkeit, he proclaims that “a country without social solidarity is ‘not Jewish’.”
3) He also declares the necessity to be just and fair to Israeli Arabs, noting that all Israeli governments have stiffed this community, with the limited exception of Rabin’s government in the early ‘90s.
He would like to see a deal with Syria, but is cautious in this regard. He would encourage Syria to cut off the flow of munitions and aid to Hezbollah, to seal its border with Iraq (to curtail the infiltration of terrorists there), and to close Hamas and other terrorist offices in Damascus. But I don’t recall what he would offer Syria by way of payment for these steps, since he explicitly says that he would not trade the Golan Heights for these. Still, he would offer the Golan Heights in return for completely normalized relations.
On the evening of the same day, I attended a program sponsored by the New Israel Fund, which featured Labor MK Colette Avital, a former consul general in New York. She is regarded as a candidate to succeed Moshe Katsav as president of the State of Isreal.
Her charm and diplomatic skills were very much in evidence before a large, friendly and dovish audience. She did not criticize Israel’s conduct of the Lebanon War, but she and her fellow panelist (an official of the NIF in Israel) spoke of the war’s impact as analogous to that of Hurricane Katrina, revealing the deplorable social conditions suffered by Israel’s poorest population in the north, people who could not afford hotels or find relatives to stay with further south and did not have private shelters in their homes.