The Labor Party held its primary Tuesday and is expected to unveil its Knesset slate at a gala campaign event Wednesday evening. Then it will get down to the real work: trying to attract voters from the moderate right, including those who formerly supported Likud, in an effort to substantially increase its Knesset representation.
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The turnout on Tuesday was 58.9 percent, higher than the 57.7 percent of the registered voters who voted in the primaries two years ago. The election committee said voting went very smoothly.
At tonight’s event, Labor leader Isaac Herzog and his new political partner, Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni, are also expected to finally announce the name of their joint ticket, which they have hitherto informally dubbed “The Zionist Camp.”
Once the Knesset slate is finalized – which will also require Herzog and Livni to decide who to put into the eight slots reserved for them to appoint candidates of their respective choice – the campaign will begin in earnest.
A study conducted on Labor’s behalf has concluded that at least 12 Knesset seats worth of centrist and soft-right voters – primarily young voters from the middle class or below – aren’t wedded to the parties they chose last time and could be persuaded to switch. Labor hopes to nab at least four of these seats.
Consequently, Herzog and Livni plan to focus their campaign on socioeconomic issues, as well as on Israel’s growing international isolation – two issues that research shows could persuade voters to switch to Labor.
“The fear of falling into poverty, the housing crisis and the cost of living are issues that speak to these groups,” a party source said. “Security considerations, which generally characterize support for Likud, are always in the background, but the public understands that with security alone, it’s impossible to go to the grocery store.”
The moderate right views Livni as being to Herzog’s right, and the joint ticket plans to make use of this view in an effort to recruit soft-right voters.
The ultimate goal is not merely for the joint ticket to win more seats than any other party, but to do so by a wide enough margin that President Reuven Rivlin will have no choice but to ask Herzog to form the next government.
“Labor must become the largest faction in the next Knesset by a clear margin of at least three seats so that the president won’t be confused and will tap us to form the next government,” a senior Labor official said.
“If Labor has a clear plurality, even [Moshe] Kahlon and [Avigdor] Lieberman will fall in line and are likely to call for supporting Herzog,” another party source added, referring to the respective heads of two potential coalition partners, the centrist Kulanu and the rightist Yisrael Beiteinu.
Herzog himself said on Tuesday that he thought the joint ticket could win 30 seats, in part by taking seats from the right. Other party sources were more cautious, putting the ticket’s ceiling at 28 seats. But both estimates are higher than current polls, which show the joint list getting about 24 seats, roughly the same as Likud.
MK Erel Margalit, who is slated to head Labor’s campaign staff, said he thought the party’s prospects were improved by the fact that so far, Kahlon’s new Kulanu party “hasn’t succeeded in generating momentum.”
MK Merav Michaeli, who is expected to secure a high spot on the party’s Knesset list, didn’t try to get the wait at her polling station shortened on Tuesday – she waited in line with everyone else, chatting with other registered Labor voters. Not everyone had that much patience. Former party leader Shelly Yacimovich saw the long line, and decided to turn around. Although many offered to give her their place in line, she refused. “The line here is just terrible. Ideologically, I’m against cutting the line. I’ll vote in Be’er Sheva or Jerusalem.”
Yacimovich is concerned for her place on the list. After losing the election for party leader by a margin of 16 percent only a year ago, this primary will be a test of her power within the party. “Of course there are concerns,” she said. “I did everything I could to get registered Labor voters to put their trust in me again.”
Party activists at the polling stations Tuesday passed around fliers floated by an apparent alliance of MKs Eitan Cabel, Erel Margalit and Michaeli. Yacimovich’s name wasn’t on the list. Activists claimed that there was no concerted effort to “rub her out,” and that they weren’t calling on voters not to pick her.
Yacimovich responded with restraint. “I believe in the polling booths. Behind the curtain, party voters make the choice and don’t just go with the names spelled out for them. These are very critical voters with strong opinions. I believe in the intelligence of the masses.”
Another party activist was quick to say, however, “I don’t understand why the media is buying the spin that Shelly is vying with Cabel for top of the list. Cabel has already won this primary, that’s a fact.”
A senior party official contacted the media and stated that the “party leadership” estimates that there are four men competing for the last “realistic spot” on the list, including MK Moshe Mizrahi, attorney Eldad Yaniv, Professor Yossi Yonah and Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform movement.
Margalit, considered a party power broker and expected to get a spot in the top 10, came out to motivate voters. “I think a good list would be able to pull in another 12 seats, which are currently floating in the wind among Yesh Atid and even Lieberman. In the next election you will see the fashionable parties on their way out, and the Labor Party will be the main alternative.”
Margalit refused to say if he voted for Yacimovich, and added “I see Shelly as part of the team, but there are alliances here. I voted for my friends.”
This primary is far from interesting to the general public. The Labor Party moved its primary polling station from the large exhibition grounds in Tel Aviv to the smaller, more modest Beit Sokolov. “During the last primary, after the schism that Ehud Barak led, Labor only managed to get seven MKs elected, and it was clear to everyone that changes should be made, bringing new, refreshing names to the party. This time, the fight for the list is less dramatic. Current MKs will most likely find themselves in the realistic spots, and there are hardly any new exciting names trying their luck,” explained one party activist.
MK Stav Shaffir, expected to be high up on the list despite not making many deals, stood outside Beit Sokolov and gave out orange wool hats bearing her name. “It’s impossible to know what the results of this election will be,” said Shaffir, adding “it’s hard to predict. But I’m not out. Today at the primary, I did what I could.”
Attorney Ayelet Nahmias, vying to be the fourth woman on the list, gave out candies with her name on them outside the polling station. Attorney Revital Swid, also competing for that spot, gave out candies as well. “We need an egalitarian Knesset,” said Swid. “We’re all worthy women. We need a winning team that will beat Netanyahu.”
MK Michal Biran, trying to preserve her spot in the next Knesset, was also optimistic. “I think it will be okay. Until the votes are counted, it’s impossible to know. The fact that women in the Labor Party manage to get around the guaranteed representation and get elected in their own right is a game changer.”