Labor Party Board Asks Ehud Barak to Run for Party Leadership

Barak considering run if it leads to a merger of the center-left parties onto a joint slate, sources say ■ Primaries for party leader to be held on January 24

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Ehud Barak at the Israel Democracy Institute conference, Jerusalem, September 12, 2019.
Ehud Barak at the Israel Democracy Institute conference, Jerusalem, September 12, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Labor Party board has asked former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who previously served as the head of the party, to run for the leadership in the upcoming primary.

Eight of the 13 board members, representing a wide range of viewpoints within the party, signed on to the request for Barak to run. The former IDF chief of staff was party leader between 1997 and 2001, and then again between 2007 and 2011. He defeated Netanyahu to become prime minister of Israel between 1999 and 2001.

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Barak is expected to make a decision over the weekend on whether he will run for Labor Party leadership in the upcoming primary. According to sources close to the former prime minister, Barak's run would be predicated on the possibility of a merger of the center-left parties onto a joint slate.

In polls seen by senior Labor officials, Barak's leadership is expected to add between five and seven seats to Labor's polling averages, saving the party from its projected failure to cross the electoral threshhold. People close to Barak were impressed by the board's personal request, given that the board is a significant anchor of the party system.

Sources close to Barak recently told Haaretz that he was expected to contend for the position, but would not do so if the outgoing leader, Amir Peretz, remained at the top of the slate. Peretz announced earlier this week that he would not run for the Knesset in the upcoming election.

While the party is attempting to enlist Barak, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli is weighing a run for the leadership of the party. Lawmaker Merav Michaeli officially launched her campaign for party leadership Thursday evening.

This comes after outgoing leader Peretz pulled an appeal he made against a court decision to force the Labor party to hold primaries. In November, the Labor party conference, a restricted assembly of party officials that has consistently supported Peretz, decided that it would decide on the new party leader. Michaeli, along with 100 activists, filed a petition with the Tel Aviv District court to overturn the decision, an unusual move, which was successful.

Labor is likely to be the only party to hold primaries, which will take place on January 24. The elections for the Knesset slate will be held on February 1.

Haaretz reported on Wednesday that Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz had agreed to join forces with Labor if Welfare Minister Itzik became party leader. Although both parties are currently very low in the polls, they would ally substantial public funding - due to Kahol Lavan's large presence in the Knesset - with Labor's tried-and-tested organizational might.

In the letter to Barak the members of the board wrote that, "There is a huge vacuum. There does not seem to be any other figure currently on the political map with your experience, leadership and national status who could succeed and rise to the task of leading a change in government."

According to the board, "We have no doubt that your candidacy to lead the country as the head of the Labor party, will set forward a process that will dramatically change the current political map and allow for a political and ideological alternative for the current government."