Defeated Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog and MK Erel Margalit announced Friday that they are backing Amir Peretz ahead of the final round of voting on Monday for party leader.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said that after multiple consultations he has “decided to support the candidacy of Amir Peretz for the head of the Zionist Camp.”
“Sitting on the fence is not an option, the overall experience of Amir, his record on security, diplomacy, social issues and economics swayed the decision,” Herzog wrote, adding that he was bringing two other lawmakers with him.
Herzog said he had not been promised anything in return for his support, nor had he asked for anything.
Margalit, who had also run in the first round, hailed Peretz’s vision.
“I have decided to support Peretz, not because of where he comes from, but where he is going,” Margalit said, adding that he “totally identifies” with Peretz’s vision on social, security and national issues.
The announcements came a day after another former Labor leader, Shelly Yachimovich said she would endorse newcomer Avi Gabbay in his bid to lead the party.
In Tuesday’s first-round vote, which saw incumbent Labor head Herzog removed from the running, Peretz finished in the lead with 32 percent (10,141 votes), followed by newcomer Avi Gabbay with 27% (8,395), with an overall voter turnout of 59% of Labor Party members.
The two men have since been jockeying for the support of the 41% of Labor voters who had picked candidates Herzog, Margalit and Omer Barlev in the first round.
Herzog and Margalit spent much of Thursday meeting with their supporters, trying to formulate a position on who they planned to support in Monday’s vote.
Peretz and Gabbay are both of Moroccan extraction, but the similarity ends there: A former Labor leader and defense minister, Peretz is a familiar face in the party with a trade unionist background, while Gabbay — a former CEO of the Bezeq telecommunications giant and non-MK minister for the Kulanu party — is a new recruit to the socialist-minded camp.
Peretz, a former Histadrut labor union chief, earned the backing of its current chairman, Avi Nissenkorn, on Wednesday, as well as the endorsement of Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli.
“Avi Nissenkorn’s support signals the deep alliance between the Labor party and the working man,” wrote Peretz on Twitter. “Together we will work to establish a new welfare state that puts the citizen at the center.”
Both Gabbay and Peretz on Wednesday expressed support for continuing the party’s partnership with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, which along with Labor makes up the Zionist Union faction. Livni was set to meet with both candidates as well.
In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, Gabbay, a former environmental protection minister for the center-right Kulanu party, played down the results of Tuesday’s vote.
“Let’s put things in perspective: I came in second, not first, in the first round,” Gabbay told Army Radio, calling it a “nice accomplishment” but not a definitive win. “From the first day, I’ve spoken of victory.”
“From the beginning, I’ve been running a positive campaign… I’ve spoken about myself, not about others,” he said. “I intend to continue with a positive campaign.”
Peretz, a former defense minister who led the party as a junior coalition partner under Kadima over a decade ago, has been campaigning vigorously for the post since December.
“I am proud of my accomplishment and am convinced I will win in the second round, after which we will replace Netanyahu,” said Peretz on Tuesday.
Gabbay, meanwhile, was seen as the dark horse in the race, bringing fresh blood and a right-wing political history to the traditionally dovish party.
In a speech to supporters late Tuesday, he vowed to battle to ensure Labor is able to form a governing coalition in Israel, “not join a coalition” — a reference to intermittent coalition contacts between Herzog and Netanyahu which ultimately led nowhere.
Gabbay quit as environment minister in May 2016 after coalition talks brought the Yisrael Beytenu party into the government. In a dramatic tirade, he accused the coalition of leading Israel on a path to destruction.
The breakout moment for Gabbay, a relatively unknown minister who was not elected to Knesset but rather appointed as an external candidate by party leader Moshe Kahlon, was followed by his crossing the aisle and joining the fight for the Labor leadership.
The primaries come after Labor (even when combined with the Hatnua party) has plummeted over the past year in opinion polls, receiving a projected 10-12 seats, down from its current 24 seats.
The winner of the leadership bid will likely determine whether the center-left party, plagued by internal divisions, is able to become the main challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud in the next elections and, consequently, whether it could seize the premiership.
Meanwhile, the centrist Yesh Atid party appears to have wooed most of Labor’s voters, climbing steadily in surveys and at this point poised to become the top contender against Likud, according to the polls.
Marrisa Newman contributed to this report.