Labor chief Peretz rules out alliance with left-wing Meretz, Barak

After pivot to the center with Gesher, Peretz says a hard-left partnership would have ‘put up walls that prevent new groups from joining us’

Amir Peretz delivers a speech at a Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Amir Peretz delivers a speech at a Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Labor party leader MK Amir Peretz on Sunday ruled out an alliance between his party and left-wing parties Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.

“There’s no chance at all to join up with Barak or Meretz,” Peretz told Army Radio in an interview.

“That kind of connection puts up the walls that prevent new groups [in Israeli society] from joining us,” he said.

The Morocco-born Peretz, who began his political career as mayor of the hardscrabble southern town of Sderot and first rose to prominence in the ranks of the Histadrut labor union federation, has said he wants the Labor party to shed its image of Ashkenazi elitism and appeal to Mizrahim, or Jews who hail from Arab and Muslim countries and have long constituted the majority of Likud’s right-wing base.

On Thursday, Peretz announced an alliance with the Gesher party, which failed to enter the Knesset in the April elections. Gesher is headed by Orly Levy-Abekasis, a former Knesset member with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party.

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)

Levy-Abekasis, the daughter of former Likud foreign minister David Levy — also born in Morocco — has remained largely identified with the right, and the merger was seen as a move by Labor to push for more support from the political center rather than from Meretz to its left.

Gesher is expected to receive three seats in the joint slate’s first 10 spots, Channel 12 news reported. It is not clear where exactly party members will be placed.

Peretz’s latest comments ruling out an alliance with Meretz come a day after Meretz’s own head, Nitzan Horowitz, slammed the merger with Gesher.

Horowitz said that Peretz, who was elected party leader in early July, had led the party astray.

“Instead of a large merger [of left-wing parties], he chose a small safeguard, turning to the right toward the Netanyahu government. I’m telling opponents of Netanyahu not to waste their time on Peretz and Orly Levy. They’re going to be the first to desert [the left] for the Netanyahu government. A vote for Labor is a vote for Netanyahu,” Horowitz said at an event in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana.

Barak, the Israel Democratic Party leader, on Saturday lamented the Labor-Gesher merger, saying it could mark the end of the storied center-left political party, which he led in 1999, the last time it won an election.

“I hope it’s still reversible, but the union could be the nail in the coffin of the Labor Party,” said Barak. The union with Levy-Abekasis “is essentially giving up on replacing the government and is opening the door for joining up with Netanyahu,” he added.

Barak himself may be one reason Peretz sought a centrist pivot. A Channel 12 report this week cited senior officials in both Labor and Meretz as saying Barak’s ties to US financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who is now a suspect in a sex trafficking scandal, had significantly lowered their parties’ chances of joining forces with him.

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