Labor-Gesher is probably the only party that would dare launch its election campaign in the commercial center of Ofakim, a sleepy development town in the south. Standing in front of the Orchidea beauty salon and an employment agency whose slogan is “the best people,” party chief Amir Peretz and his No. 2, Orli Levi-Abekasis, kicked off the race for the joint ticket.
“I know that for many of you, Likud is a place that’s hard to leave. I respect that but the truth must be told: You aren’t leaving Likud, Likud has left you,” Peretz told the crowd, before criticizing the ruling party’s leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Time after time you’ve been disappointed by Netanyahu, and you were still willing to give him more and more chances. In every election you told me, ‘Amir, only come back and we’ll vote for you.’ So here I am, for you, on your behalf. You also told me, ‘Just bring in Orli Levi and we’ll vote for you.’ Here we are, Orli Levi and I, Labor-Gesher.”
Yoram Marciano, a former Labor MK who is the campaign’s field director, looked out onto the crowd and recalled a sweet memory from the past. “Here is where we broke up Bibi’s campaign rally in 1999,” he said.
Gabi Malka, the Labor Party’s secretary in Ofakim, is optimistic even though only 158 people voted for Labor and 115 for Gesher in the April election, before the parties joined forces. “At least 1,000 people here will vote for [Labor-Gesher]; this is Amir’s home,” Malka said. “Peretz came up in the country’s outskirts, he can take off from here,”
Anat Cohen, a loyal Labor voter, came to hear Peretz and MK Itzik Shmuli, No. 3 on the joint slate and a favorite of Cohen’s. “For 55 years I’ve voted Labor,” she said. “I was born Labor ... of course I’ll vote Labor this time too.”
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A friend, Shoshana Edry, came despite being a Likud supporter. “I love Peretz. Whoever wins, wins. I was born Likud and I’ll always vote Likud,” she said, but added, “I won’t forget Amir Peretz for helping us when the knitting factory that I worked in closed down.”
Levi-Abekasis began by noting that even when she, as a Yisrael Beiteinu MK, and Peretz “were on opposite sides of the fence,” they cooperated on social issues. “Today we’re standing up together against the attempt by the rest of the parties to push the social-welfare issue to the sidelines .... Parties spread baseless hatred – a disconnect from the people, a disconnect from day-to-day problems.”
The crowd roared when Shmuli began to speak. “Our ability to rebuild ourselves depends on our winning the hearts of many who didn’t find a home with us before, in Ofakim, in Lod, in Kiryat Shmona and in Tel Aviv and Herzliya,” he said, adding: “The path we’ve chosen is neither the shortest nor the easiest, but it’s the biggest chance to change this country.”