Amid ire at Labor leader’s merger strategy, party denies covering Gesher’s debts

Amid ire at Labor leader’s merger strategy, party denies covering Gesher’s debts

Amir Peretz has vowed not to join with Meretz or Israel Democratic Party, but MK Stav Shaffir, pushing for unity, hints she would leave to lead a combination of both

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The Labor Party on Monday denied reports that as part of its planned merger with Gesher it had agreed to cover all debts that the smaller party ran up in its failed attempt to enter the Knesset during April elections.

Details of the unity deal between Labor and Gesher, announced last week, have not yet been published. But the Kan public broadcaster, citing senior Labor sources, reported that under the terms, the joint party will cover all of the costs that both parties have incurred.

The report, which noted Labor’s own financial woes, did not say how much the alleged debts are.

Some within Labor are said to be annoyed about concessions chief MK Amir Peretz agreed to give Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis to secure the deal and about his declaration that under no circumstances would he form a further union with far-left Meretz or the center-left Israel Democratic Party led by former prime minister Ehud Barak.

Israel is set to hold fresh elections on September 17 after the April vote failed to produce a ruling majority coalition. Parties on both the right and left have been exploring merger deals as a way to ensure they pass the 3.75% electoral threshold.

Former Israeli Prime Minister and leader of Israel Democratic party Ehud Barak speaks at the Party’s Election campaign event in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Labor, which has been in decline for nearly 20 years and whose six-seat result in the last election was the worst in its 71-year history, quickly denied the reported arrangement.

“The information about covering Gesher’s debts is false information,” the party said in a statement reported by Kan. “Not a shekel will be transferred from Labor to Gesher nor from Gesher to Labor. The work will be carried out according to the accepted rules and state comptroller directives.”

Levy-Abekasis’s office said in a statement, “The party has no past debts and the agreement stipulates that they will only pay the future expenses of the Gesher party headquarters.”

The agreement, spearheaded by Peretz and approved by the Labor governing committee on Sunday, reportedly reserves second place on the joint list for Levy-Abekasis as well as the 7th and 10th slots for Gesher party members. Gesher members are also allotted the 14th, 17th, and 20th slots, although the joint movement, which has not yet been named, is unlikely to win that many seats in the Knesset.

Senior figures, including those who supported the merger, feel that Peretz gave away too much to Levy’s much smaller party.

“A party that didn’t beat the threshold managed to get reserved places without any relation to its real political power,” a senior Labor official lamented according to a Ynet news site report Monday. “Amir [Peretz] sold us out.”

All three other parties in the center-left camp, heavyweight Blue and White as well as Meretz and the Israel Democratic Party, have indicated their willingness to form alliances with Labor for the election.

Although Peretz, who earlier this month was voted the new Labor leader, has previously declared the importance of uniting the center-left, on Sunday he announced that he would not join with either Meretz or Israel Democratic Party.

MK Stav Shaffir, who came second in the Labor leadership primaries, told Army Radio on Monday that she is nonetheless pushing for a merger with Meretz and Israel Democratic, and that she would even consider leaving Labor to lead a union between the other two parties, both of which are polling at four seats each, just above the Knesset threshold.

She said Peretz “is making a mistake” by ruling out cooperation with the other two parties and endangering the entire left camp.

Labor MK Stav Shaffir speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“In the current situation, one party or even two in our camp are likely to fall under the threshold,” Shaffir warned. “It is quite simply a danger to precious seats for the left that we must not allow.”

The alliance with Orly Levy is not enough, she warned, and said she was pushing Peretz to form an alliance with at least one of the other smaller parties.

“The merger that would bring the biggest success would be joining the three parties together, without of course losing the identity of each party,” she said.

Pressed as to whether or not she would consider leaving Labor over her grievances, Shaffir indicated it was a possibility.

“Labor is my party,” she said. “But if, in order to now support a merger within the [left] camp, I need to take actions that also threaten my political position, I will do it.”

On Sunday dozens of party members, at the urging of Shaffir, signed an online petition calling on Labor to unite with Israel Democratic and Meretz.

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