Israel's Labor party holds leadership vote to regain influence

Israel's Labor party holds leadership vote to regain influence
3 min read
10 July, 2017
Israel's main opposition Labor party on Monday will vote for a new leader as it seeks to regain influence following a slide in opinion polls.
Peretz, 65, was previously head of Labour from 2005 to 2007. [Getty]

Israel's main opposition Labor party on Monday will vote for a new leader as it seeks to regain influence following a slide in opinion polls.

Amir Peretz, a long-time politician and former party leader, and Avi Gabbay, an ex-businessman who joined Labour only months ago, will runoff against each other in the vote.

The candidates, both of Moroccan heritage, advanced to the final stage by beating five others in last week's first round, with Peretz winning 32.7 percent and Gabbay 27.1 percent.

The current Labour chairman Isaac Herzog could only garner 16.7 percent of the vote for a third-place finish, sealing a dramatic fall in popularity after leading the party in 2015 elections.

Around 52,000 party members are eligible to vote with polls open from 11 am until 9 pm. The leadership vote is expected to be close.

The last Labour prime minister was Ehud Barak, who led the country from 1999 to 2001.

Israel has undergone a dramatic shift to the right in recent years, with current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in power since 2009.

Fresh face vs Old Hand

Supporters of Peretz and Gabbay hope the candidates will widen Labor's support base.

Both of Moroccan descent, extremely rare for the leader of a major Israeli political party, the candidates may be able to increase support among Mizrahi Jews, those of Middle Eastern or North African origin.

The candidates also both support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Apart from that, however, they are poles apart.

Peretz, 65, was previously head of Labour from 2005 to 2007 and is the longest serving member of the Knesset.

He is a former trade union leader, and served as defence minister during Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon which killed over 1,200 civilians.

"We will work to heal the society and the divisions caused by Netanyahu," Peretz said on his Facebook page, while also pledging to act "immediately to relaunch the peace process."

He later gained praise for pushing the development of the Iron Dome missile defence system in Gaza, and has received backing from Herzog.

Gabbay, 50, was formerly head of Israeli telecommunications firm Bezaq and only recently entered politics. He has never been a member of Israel's Knesset.

In 2014, he joined forces with former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon to form centre-right Kulanu.

Kulanu won 10 seats in the 2015 general elections and joined Netanyahu's coalition, with Gabbay appointed environment minister despite not being a parliament member.

He later quit in 2016 after hardliner Avigdor Lieberman was appointed defence minister, and in December announced he was joining the Labour party.

Ex-prime minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak has endorsed Gabbay in the runoff.