Analysis

Fearing Election Debacle, Labor Chief's Resistance to Left-wing Union Starts to Wane

Talks of a joint Barak-Meretz run in September have Labor fearing it might spell its end in the ballot but there's one thing holding Peretz back

Amir Peretz visiting the memorial of Yitzhak Rabin, July 1, 2019.
Nir Kedar

UPDATE: Meretz, Barak's party announce joint run ahead of Israeli election

The first cracks may have been discovered in Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz’s wall of opposition to a joint run in Israel’s September election with left-wing parties Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel.

According to people close to Peretz, the agreement in principle reached by Barak and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz on forming a joint ticket, with some Labor lawmakers like Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli also likely to join, has given Labor leader second thoughts about whether agreeing to block any other possible mergers in his union with Orli Levi-Abekasis’s Gesher party, announced last week, wasn’t a mistake.

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Peretz’s well-wishers have warned him that if Meretz and Democratic Israel do end up on a joint slate, Labor-Gesher might fail to pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold on September 17. The excitement talks of a union have generated on the left would even draw in more than a few voters who still keep true to the dying brand Peretz heads. With polls showing that on average, the Labor-Gesher ticket isn’t worth much more than seven Knesset seats, this mini-bang on the left could spell disaster for both of them.

Aside from his apparently genuine belief that joining hands with Levi-Abekasis will “bring down the walls” and attract voters from the soft right to Labor, Peretz can’t stand the thought of a union with former Prime Minister Barak. Though both have insisted they would resolve their differences and stressed their only consideration is the left bloc’s best, Peretz remains suspicious of Barak, doesn’t believe a word he says and has even compared him to a suicide bomber.

Ehud Barak launching his Democratic Israel party, July 17, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

“He’s like someone who enters a room wearing an explosive vest and threatens that if we don’t capitulate to him and his demands, he’ll blow himself up and take us all with him,” Peretz said.

Shaffir is already deeply embedded in the Meretz-Democratic Israel joint ticket; Shmuli is still trying to persuade Peretz that sticking to the existing Labor-Gesher ticket would be a serious mistake. At a meeting between the two on Tuesday, Shmuli asked Peretz, “Let’s say you manage to get two additional seats, but Meretz falls below the electoral threshold?” Peretz replied, “Why is that my problem?”

This answer convinced Shmuli that Peretz isn’t taking the interests of the left-wing bloc into account. Rather, he wants to create a ticket that could determine the balance between right and left in Israel’s parliament after the election.