Labor Party Hopeful Says Ousted Leader Can Remain Head of Israeli Opposition Amid Battle for Endorsements

Amir Peretz bags faction leader Merav Michaeli, Avi Gabbay eyes Shelly Yacimovich and Stav Shaffir

Former Labor party leader MK Isaac Herzog with Avi Gabbay, who hopes to beat Amir Peretz in the race to lead the party in the run-off round of its primary vote, in Tel Aviv, Judy 2, 2017.
Moti Milrod

After Israeli Labor party leadership primary’s first round, the two winners, who will now facing off in a second round of voting, focused their efforts on getting out the vote next week, and on garnering support from former contenders and from Labor lawmakers who are still deliberating their choice.

Avi Gabbay, who finished second in Tuesday’s opening round of the Labor Party primary, said Thursday morning had no problem for ousted Labor leader MK Isaac Herzog to maintain his position as the chairman of Israel's opposition in the Knesset.

"I don’t make deals or any of the silliness that brought Labor into the opposition [and out of power] in the first place. The position of leader of the opposition is not a political coin one trades in," Gabbay said, adding that he of course calls on party members to rally behind him.

Gabby is expected soon to get public support from MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Stav Shaffir for next week’s runoff. On Wednesday, Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn and MK Merav Michaeli threw their support behind front-runner Amir Peretz.

Avi Gabbay, left, who finished second in first round of July 4 Labor Party primary, and Amir Peretz, who finished first, in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2017.
Moti Milrod

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Peretz began Wednesday morning with a meeting with Herzog in the latter’s Tel Aviv home. Afterward, at party headquarters, he held a press conference with Nissenkorn, who declared his “unqualified support” for Peretz. This was really no more than a routine gesture, since in the first round Nissenkorn had put all his connections and resources at Peretz’s disposal, a payback for Peretz’s support of Nissenkorn in his contest against Yacimovich for Histadrut chairman.

During the press conference Peretz spoke primarily about economic issues, saying, “As prime minister I will give the right push to three things: Raising the minimum wage, dealing with retirees and the erosion of pensions under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, and the third – a law that would make manpower [subcontracting] companies illegal in Israel.”

Amir Peretz after winning first place in Israel's Labor Party primary holds press conference at the party headquarters. July 5, 2017
Moti Milrod

Peretz addresses ethnic issue

About his being born in Morocco and Gabbay’s being the child of immigrants from Morocco, Peretz said, “I’m proud that I was born in Morocco and pleased that people of Mizrahi background see my breakthrough as something they are proud of. When you break a glass ceiling it’s for other people. [Former Foreign Minister] David Levy from the right was one of the people who broke the glass ceiling in Israel for me. He was part of the government administration, not just an onlooker. It motivated me to take action.

“The fact that two people of Mizrahi origin made it to the end of the race is a badge of pride for the party,” he continued. “But I want people to vote for me because I promise a better future and because I’m the only one who can bring in other populations and beat Netanyahu.”

From the party’s headquarters Peretz continued to his Knesset office. Although he is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he did not attend the hearing at which Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot spoke. At the Knesset he met with Michaeli, who declared her support for him. During the first round Michaeli did not publicly support anyone because as head of Labor’s Knesset faction, she said it would be wrong to take a side. Afterward their meeting, Peretz met with several mayors who declared their support for him, among them Holon Mayor Moti Sasson, who had supported Herzog in the first round.

Meanwhile, Gabbay spent much of the day in his Tel Aviv headquarters, where there were meetings to dissect the results of Tuesday’s election and organize for the next round. Gabbay met with Herzog in his home in Tel Aviv, then traveled to Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood to meet with Erel Margalit, who finished fourth behind Herzog. Gabbay’s associates said he would not promise either of them anything in return for their support, including the position of Knesset opposition leader. Gabbay himself is not a Knesset member.

He is expected to get a substantial boost when Yacimovich and Shaffir declare their support for him. In a Facebook post yesterday, Shaffir didn’t leave much room for doubt about her intentions. “If you are debating whom to choose, then I ask you to consider who would be the best for reinvigorating the Labor Party. For straight and bold politics, that keeps its distance from shady deals like they were fire. That’s the most important thing so that we can build this party into a winning force,” she wrote.

Among the losers, Erel Margalit said he was satisfied with the results, even though he came in fourth. He considers himself a new politician who, despite predictions of utter failure, managed to attract a camp of 5,000 supporters, a sufficient base for future political races. Margalit would be pleased to be named opposition leader, given that the holder of that post gets to address the Knesset after Netanyahu during debates. His associates are weighing whether to make receipt of that position a condition for supporting Gabbay.

Herzog spent time at home Wednesday before coming out to meet the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, as head of the opposition. Herzog texted his supporters that he would consult with them before deciding which candidate to back, though in the end he may not back either one.