Israeli Labor Party Sets ‘Late’ February 12 Primary, Drawing Criticism From Ranks

Critics say party chief Avi Gabbay hopes to keep candidates busy so they won't criticize him

Avi Gabbay attends a memorial service for the late writer Amos Oz, December 31, 2018.
Moti Milrod

The Labor Party primary will take place on February 12, later than some party members had expected, with critics arguing that the longer time candidates have to campaign, the less time they will have to attack party leader Avi Gabbay in the media.

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The primary will take place a week after the Likud primary and two days before the Meretz primary in the run-up to the April 9 general election.

Monday’s decision, made by Gabbay and party secretary-general Eran Hermoni, was criticized by many Labor Knesset members, who dread an exhausting campaign that will now be two weeks longer than they had assumed.

“Gabbay played a trick on the MKs. When you have faith in your team, you hold the primary as quickly as possible and then run to seize the country’s leadership,” said a source in the Labor Party.

“But Gabbay knows that this isn’t the situation and that if the primary were tomorrow morning, MKs who don’t end up in realistic spots won’t lift a finger to help the Labor Party do well in the election,” the source added, referring to spots high enough on the party’s slate to make it into the Knesset.

“He also knows that the longer they have to contend, the less time the MKs who oppose him will have to attack him in the media and undermine his candidacy” for prime minister.

The source said Gabbay’s move also reduces the time that MKs disappointed with the primary results will have to resign and join other parties, or form a group to split off from Labor before the election.

According to another source in the party, “The fact that the primary will take longer will seriously undermine the MKs’ campaigns. Today each of them has 200,000 shekels [$53,000] for a campaign that was supposed to last for three or four weeks, and now they’ll have to use the same budget for a campaign almost twice as long.”

Senior party officials rebuffed the criticism, saying the primary has been delayed for technical issues and because Gabbay has not finished his plan for reserving places on the ticket, which will influence the decision of potential candidates to join the race.

One senior official noted that a primary three or four weeks from now would make it difficult for contenders who are not MKs to attract the attention of the 60,000 party members expected to vote.

The Labor Party’s official response was that “the primary was set by legal and operational considerations and out of fairness to new contenders who are presenting their candidacies in a short time. We wish all the contenders success.”