As Election Nears, Labor Party Leader Draws Fire for Stalling Left-wing Merger

Labor's ticket, which includes a partnership with Gesher, will be approved despite unsuccessful attempts from party officials to persuade party leader Peretz to unite with Democratic Union or Kahol Lavan

Labor's Amir Peretz at a Labor Party conference, November 25, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Even though the Labor Party won just six Knesset seats in September’s election, party activists don’t plan to challenge party leader Amir Peretz’s decision not to form a joint ticket with other parties in the center-left bloc.

On Wednesday, Labor’s convention will meet to approve retaining Labor’s existing Knesset ticket – which includes a partnership with MK Orli Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher party – aside from one change that has infuriated some Labor Knesset members: Peretz will be allowed to put two additional candidates of his own choice in the ticket’s top 10 slots.

“Amir is living in a fantasyland,” said one senior party official who tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to form a joint ticket with either Democratic Union or Kahol Lavan. “He’s convinced, for some reason, that the results of the last election were a dramatic achievement and he’s fixated on running independently.”

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Many party activists are unhappy with this decision, as polls have shown that if Labor runs alone, it risks not winning enough seats to enter the Knesset. One activist even termed it the party’s “death throes.” Nevertheless, most have decided against challenging Peretz openly on the issue.

Peretz’s confidants said that if Labor doesn’t rise in the polls as the January 15 deadline for finalizing Knesset tickets nears, he will consider a joint ticket. If so, they added, he would prefer running with Kahol Lavan, as Levi-Abekasis opposes hooking up with Meretz, the main component of Democratic Union.

Nevertheless, they said, they believe the Labor-Gesher ticket could win eight to 10 seats on its own if it runs a good campaign. Party Secretary-General Eran Hermoni explained that in September, many center-left voters abandoned Labor because they feared it would join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now that Peretz has proven he won’t do so, Hermoni said, many of those voters might return.

Meretz would like to run together with Labor and has held off on finalizing a deal with its other partners in Democratic Union until it knows whether this will be possible. It, like Kahol Lavan, fears that Labor and Meretz could both fail to enter the Knesset if they don’t unite.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the party’s leadership this past Sunday, MK Itzik Shmuli assailed Peretz’s plan to reserve slots for two additional candidates in the ticket’s top 10. Five of the top 10 seats are already reserved – three for Gesher MKs, one for Hermoni and one for a non-Jewish MK. Thus if Peretz reserves two additional slots, Shmuli said, 70 percent of the slate’s top 10 would be appointed rather than elected through primaries, making a laughingstock of Labor’s claim to be a democratic party.

Another MK, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed.

“It’s irrational,” he said.

But MK Merav Michaeli said that if Peretz can find “prominent figures” whose presence on the ticket would strengthen the party, she would support the move. A fourth MK said the same.

Many Labor MKs are also furious that the party’s campaign is focusing on Peretz and Levi-Abekasis while largely ignoring them.