Labor Says Joining With Democratic Union Not on Agenda for Now

The party is sticking with Gesher in joint slate for March election, but has not yet decided if it will hold a leadership primary to oust chairman Amir Peretz

Labor-Gesher leaders Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis kick off their previous campaign in Ofakim, August 13, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Labor-Gesher party announced on Sunday that the party’s two factions will remain united in the March Knesset election, but “joining up with another party is not on the agenda for now.”

However, Labor has not yet decided if it will hold a leadership primary before the next election, which could lead to the replacement of its present chairman, MK Amir Peretz, so the key words in Sunday’s declaration are “for now.”

No one in Labor has declared they are running against Peretz. Labor-Gesher sources said the party is planning to “refresh the ranks” and are discussing with a “major” candidate the possibility of joining the party’s Knesset slate in a high spot.

The link between Peretz and Gesher chairwoman MK Orli Levi-Abekasis may still be put to the test if Labor decides at the last moment to run together with the Democratic Union – a clear possibility if it looks like one of the slates will not pass the vote threshold for making it into Knesset.

Labor-Gesher officials said the party has set a goal of winning seven or eight Knesset seats; it won six in the September election. The party estimates that about 23 percent of Kahol Lavan voters are considering voting for Labor, and the party will try to appeal to them. Another objective for the party is to raise its level of support among Arab voters, after doing worse than expected with them in the last election.

Peretz said the combination of Labor and Gesher increased the size of the center-left bloc, “and this time too we will act responsibly because this is the only consideration on the agenda. We are committed to a clean campaign without ruling out or boycotting any community or group,” he said in a press release.

Levi-Abekasis said the joint party will continue to be “the leading social force in Israel. This time we will once again put social issues at the center of the agenda.”

As for a merger with the Democratic Union, a Labor-Gesher source said: “We have no intention of uniting with the Democratic Union at this stage. Both parties are securely above the electoral threshold.”

MK Yair Golan (Democratic Union) said on Sunday that his party must run together with Labor-Gesher. In a radio interview on Reshet Bet, Golan said the ideological differences between the parties are “relatively small, certainly not ones that could not be bridged.” Combining the parties would be the “right thing to do” for the coming election, said Golan.

MK Nitzan Horowitz, chairman of the Democratic Union, is working to cancel the Meretz primary and preserve the Democratic Union – which brought together Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel, former Labor MK Stav Shaffir and the Green Movement. But Horowitz’s predecessor as head of Meretz, MK Tamar Zandberg, is considering running against him again. Last week, Horowitz said that without the merger with Democratic Israel and Shaffir, Meretz would not have passed the electoral threshold in the September election.