Will the Heat Wave in Israel Determine the Outcome of the Labor Party Runoff?

If Monday’s weather depresses turnout, Amir Peretz’s get-out-the-vote machine becomes king, leaving Avi Gabbay at disadvantage

Avi Gabbay and Amir Peretz
Olivier Fitoussi, Moti Milrod

The longest-serving Knesset member is facing off against someone who has never served a day as an MK, and on Monday, 52,000 Labor Party members will decide which of them – Amir Peretz or Avi Gabbay – will be the party’s new leader.

The polls will open at 11 A.M. and close at 9 P.M. Voting will be in the same places as it was in last week’s first round. Since the balloting is electronic, the winner will be announced shortly after the polls close.

The race is expected to be very close, and the name of the game will be turnout, which might be depressed by Monday’s expected heat wave. Since many voters will have to be transported to polling stations that may be as much as a 45-minute drive away, organization will be critical.

Peretz has the support of most of the party’s organized blocs and his ground game is well organized. Nevertheless, in the first round, these advantages still brought him only about 10,000 votes, or 32 percent of the total votes cast.

Gabbay’s support comes from voters unaffiliated with any of the party’s organized blocs. His campaign says it has identified 18,000 potential voters and believes that Peretz will get at most 15,000 votes, but actualizing all those potential Gabbay votes will require strong organization.

In the first round, 30,000 people voted, a turnout rate of 59 percent. Party sources said Gabbay will need a similar turnout this time to win. If turnout drops below 55 percent, Peretz will win, they said.

Peretz, Gabbay on the issues

To enable voters to get to know the candidates better, Haaretz allowed users of its website to submit questions and passed five of the hundreds submitted on to the candidates.

On issues of religion and state, both candidates promised to end what they termed the growing sacralization of the state school system. Both also said they supported civil marriage and limited public transport on Shabbat.

“A modern democratic state must give its citizens the right to marry and divorce in the manner they choose, and I’ll work to make this completely possible,” Gabbay said.

“Regarding civil marriage, I’d personally be happy to see my children marry according to Jewish law, but I don’t believe this should be forced on anyone, and the alternative of civil marriage must be available to all,” Peretz said.

Asked whether they would support a unilateral withdraw from the West Bank, both candidates were unenthusiastic.

Peretz said that if he became prime minister, then within his first three months in office, he would freeze settlement construction outside the major settlement blocs and renew negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the 1967 lines. “We won’t continue to settle the territories, but at the same time, we mustn’t forget the lessons of the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza (and also from other conflict areas around the world) and work in maximum coordination with our Palestinian partners,” he said.

Gabbay similarly said he would resume negotiations with the Palestinians and stop construction outside the settlement blocs. “But I don’t believe in unilateral withdrawal,” he added.

Asked whether they would invite the Arab parties’ Joint List to join any government they headed, both men said they believed Israeli Arabs should be represented in government, but that parts of the Joint List were so extreme that forming a coalition with them was impossible.

“The Joint List’s current composition includes anti-Zionist elements like [Haneen] Zoabi and [Jamal] Zahalka, so we can’t cooperate with this composition,” Gabbay said.

“Incidents that have occurred in the Joint List undoubtedly make it very hard to add them to any future coalition,” Peretz said. “Effectively, the difficulty is so great as to make this impossible.”