Israel’s Labor Party presented a new slate of candidates Friday, marking a change in the party’s makeup and setting the stage for what it vowed would be a fiercely fought election campaign.
The new list, circulated at around 11 a.m. local time, showcased a mix of newcomers and veterans dominated by dovish voices and social activists — putting Labor in stark opposition to the hawkish list elected this week by the Likud.
Some 60 percent of the party’s 60,424 members took advantage of their right to determine the face of what current polls forecast will be the Knesset’s second-largest faction.
Veteran lawmakers Isaac Herzog and Amir Peretz took the top two spots on the slate, behind party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who was guaranteed the first spot.
But the list also included a relatively large number of new faces, including social protest leaders Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, who made it into the top 20. Two former Kadima MKs who moved to Labor, Nino Abesadze and Nachman Shai, were also among the top 20 on the list.
Perhaps the most interesting name to make the list was that of Omer Bar-Lev in 8th position. Bar-Lev, a colonel (res) in the IDF and the former commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, adds significant military credentials to Labor’s roster.
Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer was in 27th place after the vote, most likely leaving him out of the next Knesset, and Noam Shalit, the father of released IDF solider and Hamas captive Gilad Shalit, was in 39th position. Most recent polls predict between 18 and 21 seats for Labor, which would make Labor the second-strongest force in the next Knesset, behind the joint list of Likud-Yisrael Beytenu.
Yachimovich called the final list “incredible” when she spoke to Labor’s members and supporters at party headquarters in Kfar Saba.
“In our wildest dreams we couldn’t imagine such a list,” she said.
“Here we have tremendous experience,” she added, “along with freshness. We have many years of practice and leadership with a glorious history of performance and achievements.”
Yachimovich blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for what she described as political and diplomatic failures, citing poverty in Israel, as well as Thursday’s vote at the UN General Assembly, which bestowed nonmember observer state status on the Palestinian Authority.
“[Netanyahu and Liberman] are completely blind to what is happening around us in the Middle East,” she opined, adding that adverse social conditions that are continuously shrinking Israel’s middle class were “a disgrace” that the country cannot allow itself.
Thursday’s primaries were dominated by talk about the rivalry between Yachimovich and Peretz.
The current chairwoman seeks to position Labor as a centrist party that is not concerned solely with diplomacy and security, and supported candidates likely to focus on socioeconomic issues. Peretz, the former party leader whose popularity plummeted after he was seen to have bungled Israel’s 2006 Lebanon War as defense minister, was backing candidates known for their left-wing politics.
It appeared Friday that Yachimovich’s camp, including political newcomers Shaffir and Shmuli, had won. Peretz’s camp showed mixed results: Peace Now’s Oppenheimer had a weak showing, but Haaretz columnist and outspoken feminist activist Merav Michaeli took the fifth spot on the list.
Likud party officials immediately slammed the primary results, describing Labor’s party list as “extreme leftist.”
“The extreme leftist Labor Party list reflects its chairwoman Yachimovich, who voted for Hadash (a socialist party comprised of Jews and Arabs),” read an official statement from Likud.
“This is an extreme left list that enthusiastically supported the disengagement [from Gaza in 2005], who brought Hamas to power in Gaza, and that now may bring Gaza into Jerusalem and to the outskirts of Petah Tikva.”
Eighty-three candidates competed in Thursday’s vote, but only about a quarter of them will likely make it to the 19th Knesset. But with nearly three months to go before the elections, results could change dramatically.
As party chair, Yachimovich was automatically guaranteed the first place on Labor’s list. The fifth, ninth, 14th and 19th spots were reserved for women. The list also included slots reserved for regional representatives and minorities, such as Arabs and immigrants.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.