Entrepreneur-turned-Knesset member Erel Margalit appears to have unofficially launched a bid for the leadership of the center-left Labor party. His announcement came in the form of an unusually aggressive attack ad aimed at both the Israeli Right, for destroying the country, and the Left, for failing to stop this from happening.
In the video, titled “Give Us Our Country Back,” Margalit dabbles in Arabic and Yiddish slang, challenges the manliness of his opponents on the Right, and ruthlessly criticizes the Left for failing to counter what he depicts as a risible and miserable foe. Israeli Channel 2’s political correspondent Amit Segal called the YouTube video the most “scathing” he could recall from an Israeli politician. Walla’s Amir Tibon characterized its Trumpian strategy as “Make Labor Great Again!”
“We have screwed up,” Margalit tells the camera, “because we let them scream … and look like men” — that is, the Israeli Left ceded the public square to the loudest voices on the Right. “And dear God, look how many psychopaths they’ve raised,” he continues. Margalit then names names, including the anti-intermarriage group Lahava (“a bunch of men no woman ever wanted”) and Likud Knesset member Oren Hazan (“the only gun he’s ever held in his life was a water gun at a pool party at a casino in Bulgaria”), who is infamous for his allegedly criminal past. Margalit accuses the governing Likud party of “talking, screaming and moaning,” condescending to residents of Israel’s periphery towns with text messages “full of hatred and incitement,” and knowing only how to “whine, to incite, to get hysterical, to fold up with their tails between their legs and then cry.”
Channeling his inner Churchill, Margalit says that he “ate shit, blood and sweat” in the Golani infantry brigade, while “the good-for-nothing security honchos [in the Likud] dined in the Kirya,” a non-combat military base in central Tel Aviv, and “served in Bamachane,” the IDF’s official magazine.
Importantly, Margalit also turns his wrath on his comrades on the Left, accusing it of “screwing up” because it “abandoned the streets” to the Right. Alluding to the recent Ha’aretz Culture Conference, in which one of the performers stripped naked on stage and stuck a flag up his backside, Margalit accuses the Left of having “abandoned the stage to those who stick flags up their asses instead of raising them with pride.” And alluding to the fury around a left-wing election rally in which playwright Yair Garbuz mocked religious Israelis as “amulet kissers” (which Israelis incorrectly recall as “mezuzah-kissers”), Margalit says that the Left should have “kissed” mezuzah-kissers instead of attacking them.
Margalit ends his video by imploring the Left to show that it can out-scream the Right, glowering into the camera and shouting: “Give us back our goddam country!” Watch the full ad below, with English subtitles (click “CC” if not already enabled):
Margalit, 55, was elected to the Knesset in 2013 on the Labor list after a successful and prominent career in venture capital. Margalit first attempted to run for the Labor leadership from outside the Knesset in 2011. He supported Isaac Herzog’s bid for the Labour leadership in 2013, but has since become one of his more vocal critics inside the party, blasting Herzog as a “dictator” for postponing the Labor leadership primaries, and accusing him of turning Labor into an imitation of opposition parties Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beitenu.
The Labor Party is due to hold leadership primaries by May 2016, as mandated by the party constitution after losing an election, although party chairman Herzog is attempting to postpone the contest. Herzog is presently in deep trouble, recently questioned under caution by Israeli police for alleged financial improprieties during his 2013 leadership bid, which could lead to a criminal prosecution. He had already been struggling with poor approval ratings and a declining performance in the polls, amid criticisms that he is attempting to “copy” rather than challenge Netanyahu.
Should the primaries run on schedule, or be brought forward by Herzog’s possible resignation, one can safely assume that Margalit intends to run, although he has not announced this yet. Indeed, he appeals in the video for Israelis to register with the Labor Party, presumably attempting to expand his base of primary voters. His YouTube channel features new made-for-TV spots promoting his message and slamming the Right. One video shows famous Israeli streets being renamed after racist organizations and right-wing politicians, and ends with Margalit declaring: “If we don’t get rid of them quickly, they will stay here forever.”
Aside from Margalit’s unofficial announcement, MK Eitan Cabel is to date the only politician to confirm that he intends to run for the Labor leadership in the next primaries. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is also widely expected to run. There are also hopes that former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will run for the leadership, to rescue a party that has not won an election since Golda Meir other than with a former military chief of staff (Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak) the helm.
But with Margalit’s in-your face entry, it’s clear that the race to remake the Israeli left has begun.