Labor Co-leaders Are Flunking the Polls, but Convinced Netanyahu Can't Be Beaten Without Them

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Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis, September 12, 2019.
Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis, September 12, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The chairman of Labor-Gesher Amir Peretz is worried. Political campaigning from both left and right has targeted his party's voters, putting it at risk of not making it into to the Knesset. At the start of the campaign, Peretz said he would win a double-digit number of Knesset seats. But the latest opinion polls show the party winning only five or six seats.

Peretz believes that the pollsters of the freebie paper Israel Hayom called the party Gesher and not Labor-Gesher while surveying, and thus confused respondents and pushed his party beneath the electoral threshold. Peretz even pulls out a text message allegedly sent out by rival center-left party, Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan, in which it says Labor will not pass the threshold of four Knesset seats. Kahol Lavan stated they are not behind these messages.

>> Read more: Israelis vs. the Jews: The real voters who will decide Netanyahu’s fate | Analysis 

Now Peretz feels the need to shift gears in his last minute, all-out campaign to save the party: “If Labor finds itself outside the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu will receive 62 seats. These are the seats for immunity [from the prime minister's corruption trials]. Whoever wants to stop this needs to vote for us, to guarantee the three seats we have taken from the right,” he told Haaretz, in a joint interview along with Orli Levi-Abekasis, whose economic egalitarian party Gesher merged with Labor in July.

Even Peretz estimates that the number of Knesset seats he among right-wing voters is only three, and that linking up with Abekasis, who is a former member of Avigdor Lieberman's party, did not succeeded in bringing any more right-wing voters. Despite that, he doesn't think the figures reflect the true situation and is worried skewed polls will weaken support for Labor.

Orli Levi-Abekasis and Avigdor Lieberman in 2015. Credit: Emil Salman

“We receive between seven to eight seats with a rising trend [in Labor polls]. A large part of our supporters are not surveyed in the polls. Residents of the periphery and Arabs are less likely to answer to pollsters. There is a real chance that we will receive a lot more,” he says. “Why are pollsters important? Since when do they predict real results? In every election campaign, I've always gotten more than the polls showed.”

For now, Peretz is surprised and disappointed by the decision of both Kahol Lavan and the Democratic Union to lure away precious voters from Labor – instead of going head to head with Netanyahu.

He blames the loss of votes from the left on racism and chauvinism against Levi-Abekasis. Quite a number of left-wing voters also expressed doubts about Levi-Abekasis’ political stance, since she is a former lawmaker of right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu.

Levi-Abekasis comments that “the biggest absurdity is that the left is looking at Lieberman today as a savior, and many former Labor members are voting for him, but blame me for sitting in his party and doing social action work there.” The attack on her by the Democratic Union, for promoting the bill to establish an inquiry commission into left-wing organizations eight years ago, seems to her to be hypocritical: “They rummaged back for a decade and what did they find? That I voted according to party discipline. But they didn’t mention that in the same vote, Ehud Barak – who was a member of the coalition – fled and didn’t vote.”

Later in the interview, Levi-Abekasis refuses to commit to not supporting a law that would prevent Breaking the Silence, for example, from distributing its findings overseas. “If someone wants to fix what is happening in the army, we have the ability to do it here at home,” she says. But if people use it for external purposes, she says it's an "improper goal," as they seek to slander Israel and become tools in the service of the BDS movement.

Levi-Abekasis and Peretz announce their joint-run, July 18, 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar

Peretz, however, had a different take: "The watchdogs have been weakened, and we need to strengthen them so people will not look for other addresses. The minute the gatekeepers will be strong, determined and decisive enough - no citizen will need to look for somewhere else.” He rules out the idea that his alliance with Levi-Abekasis has caused Labor to stray from its path, “We don’ differentiate, for even a moment, between our two banners: Social justice and peace.” By joining with Levi-Abekasis, Labor has fulfilled the “peace camp’s” desire to join forces politically with the right, says Peretz.

Levi-Abekasis vehemently rejects claims that she is using Peretz as a springboard to enter the Knesset, and that after the election she will back a right-wing agenda at the expense of the left-wing voters. She says she had offers from parties on both the left and the right, from the Democratic Union too, which is now attacking her. “It would have been a lot easier for me to sit quietly in Kahol Lavan, with a promise to be a minister. But I don’t want to be in such a place if I know that the day after I won’t be able to do anything,” she says.

Levi-Abekasis also blames “piggish capitalism” for some of the attacks on her. “This is the antithesis of the Judaism I grew up on – which sees the stranger, widow, orphan, the weak in society.”

Assuming Labor does pass the electoral threshold, Peretz gives his four conditions for joining a future government coalition: Home sales through rent-to-own programs, cancelling daycare payments for children under the age of three, raising the minimum wage to 40 shekels an hour, and raising the minimum pension to 6,000 shekels a month.

Both Peretz and Levi-Abekasis are still adamantly stating they will not join a Netanyahu government. “It will not happen under any constellation,” he promises.

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