Labor Primaries Open: Tough Battle Expected for Top 10 Spots

Some 49,000 eligible voters will be casting their ballots in Labor Party primary for 36 candidates at 76 polling places throughout the country.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Isaac Herzog at the Labor Party convention in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2014.
Isaac Herzog at the Labor Party convention in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Labor and Hatnuah are taking their first major step towards formulating their joint list for the upcoming general election, as the Labor Party holds its primary election on Tuesday. Some 49,000 eligible voters will be casting their ballots for 36 candidates at 76 polling places throughout the country.

Voting is by paper ballot, on which voters will be asked to check off between eight to 10 candidates. Labor is promising to conduct a short, fast computer count of the ballots, to contrast with the rather embarrassing situation in the Likud, where the count has not officially ended due to a series of appeals that have been filed challenging the initial results.

At 11 A.M. Wednesday, the joint slate will be officially announced, and Wednesday evening the slate will be introduced at a festive event at Kibbutz Shefayim.

This will be one of the calmest elections ever held in the history of the party. The knives have been left behind, at least officially, and at least in public the candidates have been conducting a positive campaign, expressing overwhelming support for party leader Isaac Herzog’s decision to agree to a prime ministerial rotation with Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni, despite the price the party had to pay.

It is somewhat hard to predict the various candidates’ chances, since relatively few deals have been made to deliver blocs of voters, and free voting is always unpredictable. One of the main “deals” is the one arranged by the Histadrut, but the list of preferred candidates it distributed named over 10 candidates and encompassed nearly all the sitting MKs.

“No one in the party has a significant deal to bring 5,000 voters,” said one MK. “The Histadrut has around 2,000.”

Breaking into the party’s top 10 will be difficult, since three of the spots are already reserved for Herzog, Livni, and Amir Peretz, expected to be number eight. All the party’s current MKs except for Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who resigned recently, and Prof. Avishay Braverman, are seeking reelection. They are contending against several newcomers, among them attorney Eldad Yaniv, journalist Zohir Bahalul, Prof. Yossi Yona, industrialist Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, and Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv.

Nevertheless, the assessments are that Knesset faction chairman MK Eitan Cabel is a front-runner for a spot at the top of the list. Cabel has formed a political alliance with MKs Erel Margalit and Merav Michaeli, as well as with Gilboa Regional Council chairman Danny Atar, and the four have a significant base of support. The four worked together successfully in late 2013 to help Herzog defeat former party chairman Yacimovich for the party leadership.

Yacimovich is still considered a very strong candidate. Although she lost the leadership race by a 16 percent margin, she has worked in recent months to strengthen her position and has enjoyed Herzog’s public support.

“She will in any case end up at the top of the slate,” said one of the party’s MKs “She may even come in first, but may also pay a price [for her leadership loss] and find herself in one of the next slots.

“On the other hand, if there’s anyone who has proven that they can lose honorably, it’s Shelly. She expressed totally support for Herzog and for the connection with Tzipi Livni, and has expressed hardly any criticism even though it’s clear that Herzog was never her cup of tea.”

The leaders of the 2011 social-justice protests, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, are considered dominant and enjoy wide support in the party, even though their presence on the slate in 2013 did not bring the hoped-for hundreds of thousands of middle-class voters, who in the main voted for Yesh Atid. Strengthened by the presence of Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, another figure affiliated with the social protest, they are expected to be ranked high.

Labor has reserved four of the top 20 spots for women, but at least three women are expected to make the top 10 without relying on the reserved spots. MK Michal Biran is vying for one of the four reserved seats, and at least three other women are expected to fight for a realistic slot – lobbyist Behira Bardugo, formerly Shimon Peres’ spokesman; attorney Revital Sweid and Nahmias-Verbin.

Another group of candidates who have put fighting corruption at the top of their agenda basically had their campaigns mapped out for them by the ongoing corruption investigation against senior figures in Yisrael Beiteinu. They include the former head of the police investigations division, Moshe Mizrahi; former journalist Micky Rosenthal and attorney Yaniv. Yaniv is considered to have a good chance to land a high spot.

The battle over Arab representation in the party is interesting; under the party’s procedure, all the voters will determine the Arab representative, not just the voters from the Arab sector. Broadcaster Bahalul’s chances are considered good if there’s a high voter turnout, while MK Raleb Majadele is favored if turnout is low, because he has better connections in the field.

Several spots in slots 11-20 that are reserved for representatives of various sectors. Herzog this year separated the kibbutzim from the moshavim, and both will get a realistic spot on the slate, after there were no representatives of the farming communities in the 19th Knesset.

After the primary the actual slate will undergo several adjustments, since Livni has a total of five reserved places to assign up to position number 26, while Herzog has the right to appoint two more candidates of his choice to realistic spots.

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