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Herzog announces candidacy for Labor chairmanship

Party No. 2 to challenge Shelly Yachimovich, who hopes to become the first leader of Labor to be reelected in years

MK Isaac Herzog officially announced his candidacy for the Labor Party leadership on Monday, hoping to replace current head Shelly Yachimovich and become the party’s seventh leader in 12 years.

On Sunday evening, Herzog met with fellow Labor MKs Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit, both of whom had considered challenging Yachimovich after the general elections in January. The three have been working together to present a unified front against Yachimovich since July, when she first announced the date of the primaries. Cabel and Margalit chose not to stand as candidates, and instead to back Herzog.

The election, which will determine the party’s leader for the next three years, is slated to be held on November 21.

At a press conference on Monday, flanked by both Cabel and Margalit, Herzog said, “On November 21, I will be the chairman of the Labor Party. Unfortunately, Yachimovich will not return the party to power.”

Herzog added, “I am not a star and not a talent… but I know how to do the right thing.”

Cabel, who was elected to Knesset as the party’s No. 3, said that his decision to support Herzog’s bid for faction leadership “is not [a function of] surveys or pressure.” Rather, he said, “I decided to do what I believe is best for the Labor Party… to rally around the leadership of Herzog.”

While Cabel acknowledged that he and Herzog did not see eye to eye on every issue, he said “there are some things that you cannot take away from him — his ability to unify, to connect and talk to people as equals.”

Cabel also addressed Herzog directly: “We have our disagreements, but I know where you stand, and that is why I decided that you are the one to lead us.” He added that Herzog is a “team player” and said he trusted him “to turn us back into a group, and not individual players.”

After the general election in January, which saw Labor garner a moderate 15 seats — five fewer than predicted by pollsters — one complaint by senior party officials was that Yachimovich ran a one-woman show during the campaign, did not consult with anyone else on a strategy, and harmed Labor’s chances by focusing on socioeconomic issues to the exclusion of security and diplomacy.

On Sunday, Histadrut head Ofer Eini convinced Margalit, who holds the No. 10 spot on the Labor Party list, not to announce his own candidacy, but rather to support Herzog, Channel 10 reported.

“It’s no secret that I have had my own ambitions,” Margalit confessed at Monday’s press conference. “One of the challenges in politics as a public figure is to come in with drive, but to know when to put aside your own ego for the greater cause.”

Margalit blamed Yachimovich for the party’s relative failure in the elections, and charged that, under her leadership, the Labor Party built itself up as an alternative based on the anger of the people, not on hope. He also accused her of leaving Arabs and Druze “outside of the party’s central discourse.”

It will be the second time that Herzog is challenging Yachimovich for the party chairmanship: In 2011, after Ehud Barak and his Atzma’ut faction bolted the party, Herzog, Yachimovich, Margalit, Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna all vied for the role. That was when Yachimovich ascended to the party chairmanship.

Just before the January 2013 elections, both Mitzna and Peretz left Labor to join Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, where they hold the second and third spots, respectively.

Labor has faced endemic instability over the last several years, churning out a series of leaders in an attempt to regain its footing as one of the country’s main political factions.

Yachimovich has focused on returning stability to Labor, calling on supporters to help her “make history” in becoming “the first party chair in a long time to be reelected,” when she launched her bid in July.

On Monday she was quick to congratulate Herzog, calling him a “worthy challenger.” She said that internal competition for party leadership was “the lifeblood of modern democracy, and we are proud of that.” 

Labor MK Nachman Shai on Monday threw his support behind Yachimovich in the primaries. She is also expected to receive support from at least five other current Labor MKs, including former social protest leader Stav Shaffir and one-time Ben-Gurion University president, Avishay Braverman.

Stuart Winer and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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