After primaries, Gabbay declares Labor will be ‘the surprise’ of the elections
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Israel elections 2019Joint Labor-Meretz list would win 14 seats, survey finds

After primaries, Gabbay declares Labor will be ‘the surprise’ of the elections

Poll shows center-left party gaining slightly at expense of Gantz’s Israel Resilience, but still far behind with just 8 Knesset seats

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party (C), with Labor party parliament members (R-L) Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli and Shelly Yachimovich at a party meeting in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party (C), with Labor party parliament members (R-L) Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli and Shelly Yachimovich at a party meeting in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor held its first meeting Wednesday in the wake of primaries that determined its slate for the April 9 national vote, with leader Avi Gabbay promising that the party “will be the surprise of these elections” and attempting to present it as a credible alternative to the current government despite record-low poll results.

Gabbay took a jab at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, saying: “While in Likud they are still counting the votes, we are here this morning after successful primaries, gathering for a first work meeting.”

Last week’s Likud primaries were marred by significant irregularities that saw some candidates get more votes than the number of overall registered voters in certain districts and some candidates — mainly Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa’ar — reportedly missing hundreds of votes.

Likud on Wednesday began resubmitting the vote tally from all ballot stations, stopping short of a full-blown recount.

“Labor has the best team,” Gabbay said, hailing its diversity and singling out religious candidate Yair Fink. “We are truly the home for all Israelis.”

“Our women are elected on their own merit, and so are Mizrahi Jews and young candidates,” he said, again hinting at Likud’s slate, which mainly features male, Ashkenazi, older candidates.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party, speaks during a party meeting in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We will work together, all of us, for one goal: a government change in Israel that will fulfill our ideology and path, which is the opposite of Likud’s,” Gabbay declared.

“We will continue to make clear statements, on the diplomatic front as well as on the socioeconomic front. We won’t evade [those issues] like some of the parties in our camp,” he added, likely referring to Benny Gantz’s centrist Israel Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil in the party and the emergence of new political players, including Gantz, that have eroded its base. In the 2015 elections, it won 24 seats (in an alliance with the small Hatnua faction), compared to the winning Likud’s 30 seats. Its support has collapsed since then, surveys show, under the leadership of Gabbay.

Two former leaders of the 2011 social protest movement, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, took top spots in the Labor primary election on Monday. Their placing was seen as a vote for a younger generation of leadership for the slumping party.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, February 16, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A poll published on Tuesday, a day after the Labor primaries, showed the party gaining slightly and taking several seats from Israel Resilience.

The survey, conducted by the Midgam Panel and Statnet institutes and published on Channel 13, also examined the possibility of Labor teaming up with the left-wing Meretz, which recent polls have suggested may struggle to enter the next Knesset. Gabbay has reportedly dismissed such an option, but several lawmakers have been pressuring him to make the move.

Such a merged party would win 14 seats, according to the poll — one more than the eight and five that Labor and Meretz would get, respectively, on their own. The extra seat is taken from Yesh Atid, which would drop to 10 from the 11 seats it gets without such a merger. All other parties would be unaffected by the move.

But those numbers are still far from challenging the top competitors. Netanyahu’s Likud is seen winning 32 seats — similar to previous polls — and likely being tapped to form the next government. Israel Resilience receives 21 seats, one of the lowest results for Gantz’s party in recent weeks.

The rest of the survey results show few, if any, changes compared to recent surveys. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right gets eight seats, United Torah Judaism and Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al get seven apiece, Shas and the Joint (Arab) List get 6 each, Kulanu gets 5 and Yisrael Beytenu gets 4.

Jewish Home, Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua are among the parties not reaching the election threshold of 3.25 percent.

Another question in the survey asked respondents whether Netanyahu or Gantz were better suited to be prime minister. Forty-six percent chose Netanyahu, more than Gantz’s 36%. Eighteen percent — 41% among non-Jews — said they didn’t know.

The survey of 769 likely voters representative of Israeli demographics was supervised by Prof. Camil Fuchs. It has a margin of error of 3.7%, according to Channel 13.

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

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