Michaeli: 'Israel's only democratic party has been renewed'

Ex-commando, social activist, Reform rabbi take top slots in Labor primary

Leader Merav Michaeli says party ‘starting anew,’ as former MK Omer Barlev wins most votes in election for party slate, followed by Emilie Moatti and Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks to press after casting her vote in the Labour primaries,  in Tel Aviv on February 01, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90 )
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks to press after casting her vote in the Labour primaries, in Tel Aviv on February 01, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90 )

Former Knesset member and ex-IDF special forces commander Omer Barlev took the top spot in the Labor primary election Monday night, as the party prepares its slate ahead of Thursday’s deadline to present electoral lists for the March 23 election.

A total of 18,106 party members voted for the electoral slate, some 40% of the party membership, with the top handful of vote-getters seen likely to make it into the Knesset, according to recent polls.

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 who have eroded its base. After entering the Netanyahu government following the previous election, the party lost virtually all of its support and was predicted by many polls to fail to clear the electoral threshold and disappear.

However, MK Merav Michaeli’s victory in last week’s leadership primaries breathed some new life into the party, which is now seen as potentially winning four to five seats in the March 23 general election. The party is reported to be considering a merger with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s fast-fading The Israelis party, which is now polling below the threshold.

MK Omer Barlev of the Labor Party speaks at the Party conference marking the party’s 50th anniversary in Tel Aviv, April 24, 2018. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

If no merger takes place, Barlev, a former commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit in the IDF, will be placed second on the slate behind Michaeli.

At Michaeli’s initiative, the final slate will alternate men and women and is guaranteed to have five women in the top ten places.

Barlev will therefore be followed by social activist and political commentator Emilie Moatti in the third spot and Reform rabbi and head of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism Gilad Kariv in fourth, and TV personality and lawyer and television personality Efrat Rayten rounding off the top five.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, September 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, who left the centrist party earlier this month, places sixth, followed by Israeli Arab film director Ibtisam Mara’ana in seventh, former Labor lawmaker Nahman Shai in eighth, Haifa council member Naama Lazimi in ninth, and lawyer and son of former Labor veteran Yossi Beilin, Gil Beilin, in the 10th spot.

Following a surge of some 8,000 new members amid Michaeli’s victory — which has seen a mini-revival for Labor in the polls — 45,093 people were eligible to vote in the primary, casting their ballots via the internet or at nine polling stations across the country, which opened at 11 a.m. and closed at 7 p.m.

They each were able to choose five to seven candidates out of a list of 62.

Speaking after the results were announced, Michaeli said the party was “starting anew with a new list that has been chosen by the people.”

“The only democratic party in Israel has been renewed tonight with a quality, value-based team, a team of truth, a team with equal representation for women and men, an equal team,” she said, referring to the fact that Labor is the only major party to have held primaries open to all party members ahead of the March election.

Michaeli took over the party from Economy Minister Amir Peretz. The day after her victory she announced she was pulling Labor out of the coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As a result, Peretz and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli announced they were leaving the party to continue serving as ministers, citing the need to continue propping up the center-left element of the current coalition.

Labor party member Merav Michaeli casts her vote at a polling station in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2021, Party members go to the polls to choose the party leader for the upcoming general elections.(Miriam Alster/Flash90 )

Monday’s vote was held just three days before the final deadline for parties to register ahead of the March elections, at which time all slates must be finalized.

Recent polls have shown Labor, under Michaeli, passing the electoral threshold and winning 4-5 seats.

In a Channel 12 poll released Sunday, Likud was predicted to win 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset; Yesh Atid 17; New Hope 14; Yamina 13; Joint List 10; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 8; Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu 7; Labor 5; Meretz 4; and Blue and White 4.

The survey did not show a clear path to a majority coalition for any party. Likud and its longtime ultra-Orthodox allies would have 46 seats, far short of the 61 needed to form a majority. With the right-wing Yamina the bloc would still fall short, with 59 seats. It is unlikely that any other party would join a coalition led by Netanyahu.

An anti-Netanyahu coalition, meanwhile, would need to bridge significant differences to amass 61 seats by reconciling factions, such as the right-wing New Hope and dovish Meretz.

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