Race for Labor leadership gets under way

Race for Labor leadership gets under way

Shelly Yachimovich, widely expected to win reelection as party chair, hopes to reverse a generation of ballot-box setbacks

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hundreds of Labor party activists, volunteers and supporters gathered in Tel Aviv Sunday night for the formal launch of MK Shelly Yachimovich’s campaign for reelection as party leader.

The event, held in the parking lot of the party’s headquarters, featured musical performances, including that of popular singer and Yachimovich supporter Kobi Oz.

Yachimovich is widely expected to win the party’s leadership contest, which will take place November 21. She has the public support of seven Labor MKs — Avishay Braverman, Michal Biran, Moshe Mizrahi, Mickey Rosenthal, Itzik Shmuli, Nachman Shai and Stav Shaffir — and the tacit support of more. Some MKs, such as party secretary-general Hilik Bar, are refusing to side with a candidate due to their roles in the party’s institutions, but were identified in the past as Yachimovich supporters.

Yachimovich, who has led Labor since 2011, is being challenged by MK Isaac Herzog, a former welfare minister and popular leader in the party. But Herzog has garnered the support of only two MKs, Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit, and even his supporters acknowledge his chances against the incumbent are slim.

Four MKs have declined to take sides in the contest: Omer Bar-Lev, Merav Michaeli, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Bar.

If Yachimovich wins in November, it will mark the first time a Labor leader has been reelected to another consecutive term since 1992. Likud has seen four leaders in the 65 years of Israel’s existence; Labor has seen eight in the past two decades.

That instability, Yachimovich’s supporters say, has been a key factor in the party’s lackluster showing in recent years. Labor has held the premiership for only two years in the past 17.

“We’re going to make history,” Yachimovich’s spokeswoman Bar Peled told The Times of Israel on Sunday. “The Labor party will reelect a chairperson for the first time in a long time.”

However, “we’re not taking victory as a given,” Peled added.

“While it’s true Labor members would prefer Shelly over Herzog in a straight contest, there are also members who will vote for Herzog not out of support for him, but simply to oppose Shelly’s leadership,” one Labor MK told The Times of Israel over the weekend. “That’s what [Yachimovich’s camp] is concerned about.”

When they look beyond the primaries race, Labor supporters are feeling optimistic about the future. While Labor garnered a paltry 15 seats in the January general elections, the party has risen in the polls since, largely at the expense of the centrist parties Yesh Atid and Hatnua, rising to 18 seats in some polls and even higher in others.

“We want an ideological, clean campaign,” Peled urged, “so that Labor comes out of this race stronger” — and ready to take advantage of the weakening of many coalition parties.

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