Labor Party Votes to Oust Leader Herzog; Peretz, Gabbay Head to Runoff

Top two candidates to face off again on Monday after failing to secure more than 40 percent of the vote ■ High voter turnout at 59 percent

Amir Peretz and Avi Gabbay in Tel Aviv, Judy 2, 2017.
Moti Milrod

MK Amir Peretz and party newcomer Avi Gabbay are set to face off in a runoff of the Labor Party's leadership race next week after winning a dramatic leadership vote on Tuesday. The two beat seven candidates, including incumbent party leader, Isaac Herzog.

The final voter turnout was 59 percent, more than 30,000 voters, considerably higher than 2013's 52 percent. Peretz won the most votes at 32.7 percent, 10,141 votes, with Gabbay behind him at 27 percent, 5,204 votes. Party chairman Isaac Herzog came in third with 16.7 percent of the vote, followed by Erel Margalit with 16.1 percent. Omer Bar-Lev came in last with 6.9 percent. Another two candidates - Hod Kruvi and Avner Ben Zaken - each secured less than one percent of the vote.

Labor  Party primary results

With no candidate securing over 40 percent of the vote, Gabbay and Peretz will compete in a runoff next Monday.

The race was expected to be tight, with as little as a hundred votes determining whether a candidate made the cut. 

Conceding his defeat, Herzog said that he respects the voters' decision. "I regret the result on the personal, political and ideological level," Herzog said, and promised to consult his "sizeable following" in the party regarding his endorsement in the runoff.

Five candidates

Peretz, the front-runner, said he was "proud of his achievement" and said he was confident he would win in the second round, "after which we will replace Netanyahu."

One of the Knesset’s longest-serving members, Peretz ran for Labor chairman three times, winning once and losing twice. Peretz has been planning his current campaign since 2015 and claims to have enrolled 2,000 new members in Labor to bolster his bid. He also enjoys significant support from Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn, whose successful reelection bid he backed in May.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog during a debate, July 2, 2017.
Moti Milrod
Erel Margalit at the polls with Labor Party members on July 4th, 2017.
Moti Milrod
Amir Peretz campaigning in Sderot, southern Israel, July 2, 2017.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Labor lawmaker Erel Margalit and his wife, Debbie, in Jerusalem, July 4, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Gabbay, who left the Netanyahu government in May in protest over the firing of defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, is a former CEO of the telecom giant Bezeq and was one of the founders of the center-right Kulanu, which he quit to join Labor. Party leader and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon appointed Gabbay to the cabinet, even though he wasn’t a Knesset member. 

Gabbay has recruited some 3,000 new members into the Labor Party party, 90 percent of whom have signed up over the internet. He says these numbers have encouraged him to join the race for Labor chairman and test his strength within the party.

The current opposition leader, incumbent party chairman Isaac Herzog, was hoping to be the first Labor leader in 20 years to be reelected. Under his leadership, the party won an impressive 24 Knesset seats in the last election. But he has been perceived as an ineffective opposition leader, and his negotiations to enter the Netanyahu government badly damaged his credibility among party members.

Herzog says he has no intention to quit politics. Rather, he will stay in the Knesset and possibly run for president in 2021.