After Election Defeat, Labor Party to Consider Early Leadership Vote

The party whose forebear founded Israel is also over a million dollars in debt, since campaign budget had been set based on expectations it would win around 15 seats

File photo: Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay speaks at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on election night, April 9, 2019.
Jalaa Marey/AFP

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay announced on Wednesday that he would hold a convention within 45 days to discuss the party’s collapse in last week’s election, when it won only six our of 120 Knesset seats, its historically poorest showing at the ballot box.

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The convention will decide whether to move up a leadership race to choose a new chairperson, or name a temporary head instead of Gabbay pending a primary election that the party’s constitution says must be held 14 months after the election.

None of Labor’s lawmakers are in a hurry to succeed Gabbay, because serving as temporary chairperson would mean they could not contend for the permanent position.

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Shaked says taking time off after election defeat

Also Wednesday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose new Hayamin Hehadash party narrowly failed to pass the electoral threshold, said that "after six intense years, I am claiming my own freedom" for an indeterminate period, alluding to the theme of liberty central to the upcoming Passover holiday.

Speaking at a Justice Ministry event ahead of the holiday, Shaked said she had become attached to "the experience of this ministry, to the work and the energy taking place between its walls by the best people in public services, many of whom I see here."

A day earlier, Naftali Bennett, who leads Hayamin Hehadash along with Shaked, said he took full responsibility for the party's failure to enter the Knesset. He apologized to Shaked, adding thast he had "no doubt that she will return to serve our people."

Election results showed Hayamin Hehadash receiving 3.22 percent of the vote – 1,495 votes short of the threshold.

Labor faces $1 million debt

In addition to its leadership crisis, Labor is also 4 million shekels ($1.12 million) in debt, which will have to be covered by cutbacks. The campaign budget had been set based on expectations that the party would win around 15 seats.

But now with fewer seats in the Knesset, Labor will have to make due with less government funding, which will leave a shortfall. Among the cuts being considered are closing branch offices, moving to smaller offices and cancelling contracts with suppliers.

A source close to Gabbay said that “based on our estimates, we should be able to cover the debt within three years. Our main mission is to try and stabilize the party in the near term.”

As part of the effort to rehabilitate the party, many observers believe the convention will decide to move up the leadership contest from three to six months after the meeting is held.

Some party insiders disagree with moving up the vote for fear the next chairperson would be hard put to keep up a fresh image until the next Knesset election is held in four years’ time.

Gabbay, who was at first expected to resign in favor of a temporary chairman, may remain at the helm until the primary is held.

MK Amir Peretz, a former Labor chairman and a leading contender to succeed Gabbay, hasn’t decided if he’s interested in the role, while MK Shelly Yacimovich, another former Labor head, has made it clear that she doesn’t want the role again.

Another option would be to name a non-lawmaker as a temporary chairperson, the way Micha Harish was appointed in 2011 after Ehud Barak broke away from Labor to form the Atzma’ut party. Harish held the post until Yacimovich was elected as chairwoman.