Veteran Labor Lawmaker Amir Peretz Overtakes Young Guard in Party Primary

65,000 members of Israel's oldest party were eligible to pick a new leader after a major decrease in the vote share in April's election

Labor lawmaker Amir Peretz at a party conference, June 2019.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Veteran Labor Party lawmaker Amir Peretz has won the primary for the party's leadership on Tuesday, overtaking a new generation of contenders with 47 percent of the vote.

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Peretz ran against younger lawmakers Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, who won 26.9 and 26.3 percent respectively. The voting rate on Tuesday was 45.6 percent of eligible party voters, lower than the last primary, which saw a 59 percent turnout.

The veteran politician was Labor chairman in 2006, and the party received 19 seats in the election that was held while he was its leader. He served as defense minister in Ehud Olmert's government, holding that role during the Second Lebanon War. 

Labor lawmaker Stav Shaffir in Tel Aviv on July 1, 2019.
Moti Milrod

Some 65,000 party members were eligible for voting. Voting was extended until 10 P.M. because of low turnout amid heavy traffic jams caused by widespread protests by Ethiopian Israelis over a police shooting.

Peretz decided to postpone his victory celebrations due to protests across the country over the fatal shooting of Ethiopian Israeli teen Salamon Taka by an off-duty police officer on Sunday.

Labor lawmaker Itzik Shmuli at his campaign headquarters on July 1, 2019.
Moti Milrod

"I've decided not to hold my victory celebration in light of the deep rift [in Israeli society] that is being intensified in front of our very eyes and the protest of the Ethiopian community. This outburst expresses the sense of discrimination they have been carrying for many years. Tomorrow we'll do everything that is required to reunite the party and make it to a political home for every Israeli," Peretz said.    

All contenders to some degree supported running jointly in the next election with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's new party or with Meretz.

Under normal circumstances, Peretz would be given time to settle in. But following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a governing coalition after the April election, he will have little more than two months before the year’s second general election takes place on September 17.

Peretz will face a formidable task: Picking up the pieces of the once-dominant party after the most disastrous election result in its history. After Labor garnered a mere six seats in April, former Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay resigned, the latest in a series of leaders who failed to win over voters.

Clashes between the three candidates heated up over the weekend.

“Unfortunately, if the Labor Party once again chooses the old politics, I don’t think the Labor Party will exist,” 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.

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  Barak’s new party and other prominent figures on the center-left, given his “ego” and his history of bad blood with Barak.

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.