Minister Shmuli Won't Run for Labor Leadership, Urges anti-Netanyahu Parties to Unite

Former PM Barak, outgoing chairman Peretz already said they would not seek nomination ■ Netanyahu-backed candidate elected Habayit Hayehudi chair, first woman to lead the far-right party

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Itzik Shmuli during a cabinet meeting, June 7, 2020.
Itzik Shmuli during a cabinet meeting, June 7, 2020.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli of the Labor Party, who had been considered a possible candidate to head the party as the country heads toward Knesset elections on March 23, announced on Tuesday that he would not run for the party's leadership.

Shmuli's announcement in a Facebook post leaves Labor Party Knesset member Meirav Michaeli as the only high-profile candidate candidate for leadership of the party. The current leader of the party, Amir Peretz, had previously announced that he would step down from the post and that he would not run for the Knesset in the upcoming elections.

"After much deliberating, I have decided that it would not be right to do so," Shmuli said referring to a leadership bid. "It's a decision that I make with a heavy heart," he wrote, but added that he is at peace with it "despite the possibility of fulfilling a dream that's really within reach."

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Shmuli said it was important for parties to join forces with the single goal of ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power in the March election.

On Monday, Ehud Barak, the former prime minister and Labor Party leader, announced that would not seek to again lead the party, citing unwillingness by center-left parties to unite ahead of the election.

The only other declared candidate is Gil Beilin, the son of former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin. Thursday at 5 P.M. is the filing deadline for candidates seeking the party leadership. The election of a new party leader is scheduled for January 24 with elections for the party's Knesset slate to follow on February 1.  

In recent polls, the Labor Party, which is the successor to the party that founded the country, was not attracting the minimum support on it own for Knesset representation.

Habayit Hayehudi picks new leader 

In other election developments, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe snapped the nomination to lead the Habayit Hayehudi party in the upcoming election.

Moshe will be the very first woman to lead the religious zionist faction. She had received the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several leading rabbis, including Rabbi Haim Druckman.She is expected to join forces with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party, a union that polls say will assure their presence in the next Knesset. It would also also make it less likely for Smotrich to try reuniting with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina.

"Congratulations, Hagit! Our great public deserves unity. We have been dealing with the divider for too long. It is time to bring togetherness and light back into the eyes of the daughters and sons of religious Zionism," Smotrich said.

Bennett drafts protest leader

Also on the right, Abir Kara, who founded the "I am Shulman" group of self-employed and small business people, announced Tuesday that he would be running for the Knesset as a candidate from the Yamina party headed by Naftali Bennett. Kara and his associates are to get one of the top 10 spots on the Yamina slate, two positions between slots 11 to 20, and two more from 20 to 25.

At a meeting last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the premier called on Kara and his colleagues not to run independently and not to join up with Bennett, a request that apparently fell on deaf ears. 

“We’re going with Bennett because we believe that Bennett as prime minister will work with us on major moves,” Kara said Tuesday. For his part, Bennett added, “We need people who do things, not additional politicians.”

Also Tuesday, the chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements, David Elhayani, said he would join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, saying he believed in Sa’ar’s leadership abilities. “Netanyahu has abandoned Likud's values,” Elhayani said. “I have good friends in Likud, and love them and embrace them. It's difficult to leave the home that one loves, but Netanyahu has destroyed it.” 

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