Rivals for Israel's Labor Party Leadership Snipe at Each Other Ahead of Vote

As former 2011 protest leaders Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli trade barbs, veteran candidate Amir Peretz tries to recruit former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin and former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to his ranks

Labor leadership candidate Stav Shaffir (left) crosses paths with rival Itzik Shmuli (right) at the Labor party convention, in Tel Aviv, June 2019.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Clashes between the three candidates for the Labor Party’s leadership heated up over the weekend, with one candidate claiming that victory for anyone but herself in Tuesday’s primary would kill the party.

“Unfortunately, if the Labor Party once again chooses the old politics, I don’t think the Labor Party will exist,” MK Stav Shaffir said at a Shabbat of Culture event in Hadera on Saturday, referring to both her rivals, MKs Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli. “If you want to choose hope, you have to let me lead it.”

Shmuli, who interpreted this as meaning that she won’t promise to stay in Labor if she loses, responded on Twitter, “In the past, there were candidates who lost and left. That’s not the way.” Both he and Shaffir made their names as leaders of the massive social protests of summer 2011.

Labor leadership candidate Amir Peretz (center) at the Labor party convention, in Tel Aviv, June 2019.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

He also repeated his plea that Shaffir withdraw from the race and throw her support to him. “Join me and we’ll build up the party,” he wrote.

Shaffir responded to that by accusing him of acting statesmanlike in public while making tendentious leaks to the media behind the scenes.

Each also accused the other of cooperating with Peretz – whose associates retorted that the feuding between Shaffir and Shmuli was damaging the party.

Shmuli also claimed he is the only candidate who could forge a broad center-left alliance. Peretz, he said, would have trouble joining forces with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s new party and other prominent figures on the center-left, given his “ego” and his history of bad blood with Barak.

Labor leadership candidate Amir Peretz (center) at the Labor party convention, in Tel Aviv, June 2019.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Peretz retorted that he has every intention of forming a joint ticket, and has already appointed former MK Omer Bar-Lev to conduct the negotiations with Barak on his behalf.

He has also asked Bar-Lev to negotiate with other people who might be interested in joining a broad center-left ticket, including former MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, former Shin Bet security service director Yuval Diskin and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. The goal is to create “a large, united democratic force to oppose the right headed by Netanyahu,” he said.

One source involved in talks about a center-left joint ticket demurred, saying, “The possibility of Diskin or Eisenkot entering politics doesn’t seem serious at this point. These names are being thrown into the air as part of the campaigns, in the hope that something will happen, not because there are real discussions with them.”

But Peretz insisted that it is “very serious,” as he is “friends with both of them.”

Shaffir, for her part, said she has discussed alliances with Barak, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yair Golan, Livni, former MK Dan Meridor and Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz.

Meanwhile, Labor Party officials charged that contrary to the impression he has created, Barak himself has thus far held almost no discussions about a possible joint ticket with either Labor or Meretz.

“It’s very hard to understand what his ultimate goal is,” one said. “There’s a lot of hot air in the media and very little concrete discussion on the ground. Yes, there were some vague meetings, but it was impossible to figure out whether he wants a real partnership with us, or whether he’d rather go with Kahol Lavan,” the party led by Benny Gantz.

Another person who has held talks with Barak but has so far refused to join his new party agreed, saying, “It was very hard to figure out whether he’s serious about the moves he’s promoting, whether he’ll stay in the race until Election Day and what he wants to achieve. It felt as if forming the party were a default option, after the idea of running for the Labor leadership was dropped and feelers about joining Kahol Lavan didn’t go anywhere.”