Labor Primary: Three Women Make It to Top 5 as Party Seeks Revival

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Chairman of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, at the party's primaries, Tel Aviv, February 11, 2019.
Chairman of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, at the party's primaries, Tel Aviv, February 11, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Itzik Shmuli reached the first place in the Labor Party's primary on Monday ahead of the April 9 election, followed by Stav Shaffir, Shelly Yacimovich, Amir Peretz and Merav Michaeli.

Fourteen current MKs and new candidates were competing for the seven vacant slots in the ticket’s top 10.

Israel Labour Party primary results, February 2019.Credit: Haaretz

>> The women fighting to save Israel's founding party

Thirty-four thousand party members voted in 84 nation-wide polling station. The turnout, 56 percent, was higher than senior party officials had predicted, and close to the 60 percent turnout of the 2015 primary. 

Party officials had feared that Labor’s recent poor showing in the polls would deter people from voting. “Members aren’t enthusiastic about going out to vote, because in a situation where only five or seven MKs will get in, it’s clear in any case who they will be,” one activist warned a few days ago.

Shelly Yacimovich on the day of Labor party primaries, Tel Aviv, February 11, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani

A poll published over the weekend by the Israel Television News Company showed Labor winning seven Knesset seats, up from four or five the previous week.

At the main polling station in the Tel Aviv fairgrounds, party chairman Avi Gabbay strolled among the festive booths, enjoying a break from his many critics. Even if someone had planned to confront him, the steady chant of “Avi Gabbay for prime minister” made it impossible.

Itzik Shmuli with Labor party member on the day of the Labor primary, Tel Aviv, Israel, February 11, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“Look around you, look at the atmosphere,” he said. “This isn’t a party of six Knesset seats.”

But his smiles belied his tension, which was evident in his refusal to invite the press to accompany him throughout the day or even disclose his schedule. A low turnout would have proven that voters had lost faith in the party.

MK Shelly Yacimovich arrived at the fairgrounds shortly after Gabbay left and was visibly tense. Labor activists predicted that many voters would punish her for her unreserved support of Gabbay, while many party members view her as the main obstacle to replacing him.

Stav Shaffir with her campaign supporters, Tel Aviv, Israel, February 11, 2019. Credit: Meged Gozani

A party source said it was too early to predict whether efforts by some activists to add Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to the ticket would bear fruit. But one MK said that if the party doesn’t manage to merge with either Meretz or Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael party, this would be essential.

“The Labor Party is on the verge of a historic collapse,” he said. “These names would bring us a few extra seats and help us take off.”

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