The freshly elected chairman of the Labor Party, Amir Peretz, vowed on Wednesday to pursue political alliances in order to build a large "democratic ideological force" to counter the right wing, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He spoke to faction heads and political leaders, including Ehud Barak and Orly Levi-Abkesis, Peretz said, adding, "Our goal is clear: to bring the Labor Party's social, economic and political issues back onto the agenda."
Peretz's strategy is to strengthen the Labor Party, positioning it at the head of a bloc ahead of the general election scheduled for September 17.
He did not rule out alliances with other parties, but is basing his campaign on the ambitious goal of increasing Labor's number of seats in the next Knesset to 15, with support in right-wing circles in the periphery and voters disappointed in Moshe Kahlon's party Kulanu and Levi-Abekasis' party Gesher, among others.
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Peretz won the primary for the party's leadership on Tuesday, beating younger contenders Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli. However, Peretz said, celebration of his triumph was postponed because of protests in the cities Tuesday evening (after a policeman mortally shot an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian origin).
"The streets are burning," Peretz said. "This is a time for social national leadership. Our social fabric is collapsing and this is the time to take responsibility." He called for a government inquiry to examine the authorities' treatment of Israelis of Ethiopian origin in all matters.
With his victory, Peretz said, "This morning the Labor Party is embarking on a new road. We need to line up, unite and prepare for the general election, which is so critical to the State of Israel's future. Under my leadership, the party will become a political and social alternative, and will bring true revelation to the citizens of Israel."
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Peretz won the Labor primary on Tuesday with 46.7 percent of the vote. Shaffir won 27 percent and Shmuli, 26.2 percent. About 30,000 party members or 45.6 percent of eligible party voters, lower than the last primary, which saw a 59 percent turnout.
Peretz had served as Labor chairman in 2006, and the party received 19 seats in the election that was held while he was its leader. He served as defense minister in Ehud Olmert's government, holding that role during the Second Lebanon War.