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Fresh cracks form in Labor as left-wing parties said to ramp up merger efforts

Party No. 2 Itzik Shmuli calls decision by Amir Peretz to rule out joining with Meretz or Barak ‘irresponsible’ and a ‘dangerous gamble’

Labor leader Amir Peretz (L), Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis (2L), and other Labor lawmakers at the party's campaign launch in Tel Aviv on July 24, 2019 (Omer Sharvit)
Labor leader Amir Peretz (L), Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis (2L), and other Labor lawmakers at the party's campaign launch in Tel Aviv on July 24, 2019 (Omer Sharvit)

The Labor Party’s No. 2, MK Itzik Shmuli, on Wednesday criticized party leader Amir Peretz for dropping a bid to merge with other center-left parties ahead of the September elections.

The criticism came as reports indicated that the left-wing Meretz party was moving toward a merger with former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.

Last week, Peretz announced a unity deal with Orly Levy-Abekesis’ Gesher Party. On Sunday, the Labor leader said he would not join forces with either Meretz or Barak before the fall vote, stoking some anger within the Labor Party.

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

Labor MKs Itzik Shmuli (L) and Amir Peretz at the party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gesher, a socially minded party led by the former right-wing Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker, failed to clear the electoral threshold in the April elections.

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.

Labor has been in decline for nearly 20 years. Its six-seat result in the last election was the worst in its 71-year history.

On Wednesday, Shmuli broke ranks with Peretz, days after fellow Labor member Stav Shaffir continued to push for a center-left union and suggested she could abandon the party over Peretz’s decision.

“A broad alliance is the need of the hour,” tweeted Shmuli. “I tried to advance it in the past few days, actively and quietly, not in the headlines, rather facing the party leaders and other sources, and if it’s desired — it can still be achieved.”

“A camp that is shattered into splintered parties is taking a dangerous, unnecessary gamble with its chances to grow and win, and also with the future of the party,” he continued. “It is irresponsible to accept the situation, which should be actively changed.”

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)
At a campaign launch in Tel Aviv Wednesday, Peretz was overheard addressing Shaffir and Shmuli’s criticism, telling an aide: “They have no shame. It’s a putsch in broad daylight.”

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

Barak and Meretz have continued negotiations on a possible merger. In late night talks on Tuesday, Barak agreed that Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz could lead such an alliance, according to Hebrew reports.

Channel 12 said Wednesday that Barak was willing to be placed 10th on the party list but would be given first to pick a ministerial portfolio if the party enters a governing coalition.

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)

The Labor-Gesher unity 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

Shaffir, who came second in the Labor primaries after Shmuli, 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 Levy-Abekasis 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 Labor 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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