The Israeli Labor Party’s Riches May Save Its Political Life

No poll gives the faltering party a chance of even entering entering the Knesset in the next election, but it has a big financial edge over rivals

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Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 12, 2020.
Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 12, 2020. Credit: Daniel Bar-On

As Israel heads into election, attention has focused on Gideon Sa’ar’s new party and Naftali Bennett’s soaring poll numbers. Labor leader Amir Peretz’s efforts to avoid a party primary for electing the next chairman have been given short shrift.

That is understandable, as no poll gives the party a chance of even entering the Knesset in the next election. The Labor brand is considered a political liability and public figures weighing an entrance into national politics, such as Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, don’t plan to make the party their new home.

Nevertheless, Labor is one of the two richest political parties in Israel and perhaps the richest of all. Information obtained by TheMarker shows it has property assets, owned by party-controlled firm Beit Arlozorov, worth at least 150 million shekels ($46 million).

“Divide that amount up over four elections and you’ll see that we’re talking about money that could change the political map. It’s a game changer,” said one former party official, who asked not to be named. “These assets are strategic.”

The party’s 10 million shekels in debts are small by comparison and the real estate has commercial value, not just buildings used as party branch offices, the former official said.

The real estate isn’t convertible into cash quickly, but could be used as collateral for loans. They become even more significant as the other political parties’ finances are in such poor shape.

The link-up between Gideon Sa’ar, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, has an ideological basis but it also motivated by the 7 million shekels the latter two can bring to the table from their Derech Eretz party. But compared to the money Labor has, the amount is tiny.

Overall, after three back-to-back elections over 18 months, Israel’s political parties have combined debts of close to 200 million shekels. The parties simply haven’t had time between elections to accumulate funds from public election coffers – based on the number of Knesset seats they have and the time the MKs have served in office – or enough money to cover them. All of them are experiencing a cash crunch.

Four months ago, the secretaries general of the parties told the government’s party-funding committee that they weren’t getting enough money to survive. However, it’s unlikely that the public would countenance an increase. Last week legislation proposed by MK Ram Shefa (Kahol Lavan) to decrease allocations was debated in the Knesset House Committee. But there was also a proposal to extend the life of party loans taken from the state to four-and-a-half years from three.

Given the parties’ tight finances, Labor’s property assets look very attractive and may yet draw political aspirants, such as Huldai, to Labor’s ranks.

In addition to the real estate, Labor counts 43,000 registered members. An internal survey showed about a third don’t plan to vote Labor, but this is still a human capital asset that no new party can easily replicate. Unlikely as it seems, Labor may yet be the tool for someone’s political future

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