In her keynote address to J Street delegates on Sunday, opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich reiterated her commitment to aid the current Israeli government should they make concrete steps towards a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
While stipulating that she would not allow the Labor Party to be a “fig leaf for the government’s policies”—noting the tendency of her party to join any government, no matter its composition—Yachimovich stated, “If we witness meaningful steps in the peace process and some of the government’s rightwing elements threaten to leave, we will act as a political safety net and would even reconsider the possibility of joining the government.”
“To Prime Minister Netanyahu, I say move ahead. I know that we don’t have an easy partner. There will be challenges. It won’t be easy. But for the sake of Israel’s future, move ahead. We will support you. The people of Israel will support you. And the world will support Israel,” she said.
Yachimovich also used her time to make clear Labor’s position on Iran, in the wake of President Obama’s phone conversation Friday with Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani. “If there is a chance to stop the Iranian military nuclear project with diplomatic efforts, we should explore it meticulously,” she added.
On the other hand, “If the Iranians are trying to fool us, it is clear that all options are on the table. This is not just a cliché. We must be neither naïve nor paranoid. We know how to defend ourselves and are entitled to the right of self-defense. Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not only threaten Israel, they represent a grave danger to the entire world.”
The most warmly received elements of her address in the hall, however, were those which focused on Israeli domestic matters. Selling herself as a social democrat, Yachimovich made the case that social justice within Israel is inseparable from political justice as it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Poverty and social gaps foster ignorance and racism on both sides. So in a society with huge gaps and deep poverty, the flowers of peace, cannot bloom.”
Specifically, J Street delegates were fired up by her call for the freedom of religion and worship for all streams of Judaism including non-Orthodox denominations, although Yachimovich did not elaborate on what policies the Labor party might support in order to protect Reform and Conservative Judaism, such as the abolition of the chief rabbinate. Yachimovich added a call to support the institution of civil marriage as well as marriage for same-sex couples and protection of LGBT rights.
Yachimovich’s appearance was followed by a panel discussion featuring MKs Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid), Merav Michaeli (Labor), Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas), as well as Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beiteinu). Speaking to journalists afterwards, Hanegbi made clear that he had not received any pressure from Netanyahu or his fellow MKs not to attend the conference, but rather from settler groups within the Likud.
“They [the settlers] do not know J Street as I know it now,” Hanegbi said. “As a result of the criticism, I began to find out more about them and I now consider myself an ambassador for the legitimacy of J Street.” Hanegbi praised the “passion and energy of young people” within J Street, noting the importance of dialogue between left and right. Vaknin echoed Hanegbi’s thoughts, adding that Jews in the Diaspora would feel “connected and loved” in and by Israelis.
Liam Hoare is a freelance writer based in Vienna, where he is the Europe Editor for Moment and a frequent contributor to Tablet.