Labor board members call on former PM Ehud Barak to run in party’s primaries

Ex-prime minister and former head of left-wing faction has said he won’t run in March elections after failed return to politics in 2019

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, during a media interview in Tel Aviv, September 30, 2019. (File: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, during a media interview in Tel Aviv, September 30, 2019. (File: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Leading board members of the floundering Labor party on Thursday called on Ehud Barak, its former leader and a former prime minister, to return to the party and run in its primaries.

In a public statement, eight members of the party’s board called on Barak to run in the vote, which will be held in two weeks.

“The order of the hour requires you to be a candidate for the good of the State of Israel,” the statement said. “There is no figure on the political map with your experience, leadership standing and national status to succeed and lead a change in government.”

All of the letter’s signatories are considered supporters of the party’s current leader, Amir Peretz, who has said he will not run in the primaries and will instead seek the presidency.

There are currently two candidates for the Labor party leadership — MK Merav Michaeli and attorney Gil Beilin. Party No. 2 Itzik Shmuli, the current welfare minister, will decide on his candidacy in the coming days, Walla news reported.

Barak has said in recent interviews that he will not run in the March elections. He sat out the last Labor party primaries a year and a half ago, and instead formed his own faction, the Israel Democratic party. It ran with the Meretz party and did not make it into the Knesset in the September 2019 elections.

Earlier this month, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Labor must hold primaries despite a decision by Peretz to cancel them.

The ruling accepted a petition filed by Michaeli, and forces Labor to uphold the party constitution, which requires primaries for both the leadership and the electoral slate ahead of the upcoming March elections.

Labor MK Merav Michaeli speaks during a protest in Jerusalem, November 9, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Michaeli filed the petition after Peretz announced he would not run for the party leadership and that the entire slate would be compiled by the party’s central committee, rather than opening up to all party members. His move was seen as an attempt to pass the leadership directly to Shmuli.

Michaeli, who refused to go along with Peretz’s decision to enter a unity government alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, welcomed the ruling and said it “defends the right of Labor Party members to elect those who represent them.”

Primaries were introduced into Israeli politics in the early 1990s when several major parties sought to bolster public support by increasing participation in the democratic process. Since then, however, most new parties have forgone internal elections, opting instead for a system in which the party leader or a committee of officials chooses a “perfect” slate, unsullied by the caprices of party members.

Labor, Israel’s ruling left-wing party during its first 30 years and a dominant force in the country’s politics until several years ago, has lost virtually all of its support and no recent opinion poll has predicted it will enter the next Knesset on its own.

In April, following the last election, the party’s central committee voted in favor of joining the unity government, upending repeated campaign promises to never serve under a prime minister facing a criminal indictment. Peretz serves as the economy minister and Shmuli as minister of labor, social welfare and social services.

Chairman of the Labor party Amir Peretz seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Michaeli rejected sitting in the coalition under Netanyahu, making her a de facto opposition member within her own party, and within the coalition.

Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently now gearing up for a fourth election in two years, which will take place on March 23.

Barak, a center-left politician who previously served as the IDF chief of staff, was prime minister in 1999-2001 and head of the Labor party. After leaving office he quit politics, but he returned years later and served as defense minister under Netanyahu, before leaving for a second time in 2013.

He attempted to make a political comeback running in the September 2019 Knesset elections as part of the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance, but failed to make it into the Knesset. His campaign was tarnished by his former business ties to disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein.

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