Labor ‘looks certain’ to run independently of left-wing union, party sources say

Amir Peretz said to have ‘made up his mind’ about leading the storied faction to September’s election alone, ‘regardless of what others in the party think’

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Labor chief Amir Peretz at the opening of the party's new election headquarters in Tel Aviv, on July 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor chief Amir Peretz at the opening of the party's new election headquarters in Tel Aviv, on July 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With just two days left to finalize mergers ahead of the deadline for presenting party slates, the Labor Party “seems certain” to go ahead with a Knesset run independent of the newly formed left-wing Democratic Camp, sources in the party told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Despite significant internal criticism over the decision, newly elected leader Amir Peretz is “set on running alone, as Labor, and not as part of Barak’s left-wing bloc,” one party source said, referring to the party formed as part of a merger deal between Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and Labor deserter Stav Shaffir.

While confirming reports that Peretz has held meetings with members of the Democratic Camp, one source, who asked not to be named, said that it “seems certain now that we will run on our own. He’s made up his mind about it.”

There has been lingering anger within Labor over Peretz’s decision to merge the party with former lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, which is further to the right on the political spectrum and had failed to pick up enough votes to enter the Knesset in April’s elections. Yet others within Labor, notably the party’s No. 2 MK, Itzik Shmuli, have pushed Peretz to cooperate with the Democratic Camp on a joint slate in an effort to win as many seats as possible for the left.

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)

Another source within the party said on Monday that Peretz was likely to reject any offer from the Democratic union, “regardless of what others in the party think.”

Asked if there was significant internal opposition, the source said, “We might have fewer seats than we’ve ever had, but we have just as many opinions. Of course people disagree; there are always going to be disagreements. But it’s not something that is going to stop Peretz from making his own decision.”

The six seats Labor picked up in April marked a record low for the storied faction, whose previous incarnations led Israel for nearly 30 years after the country’s founding.

Since the merger deal was announced last week, polls have since predicted a solid showing for the Democratic Camp — between eight and 12 Knesset seats — with Labor suffering and dropping to just five seats in two of three surveys released over the weekend, barely above the electoral threshold.

Barak on Tuesday called for a broad union of all major parties in the center-left ahead of the September 17 elections, saying in a video posted to Twitter, and directed at Peretz and the leaders of the centrist Blue and White party, that while “history is within reach, so is missing [the opportunity].”

Screen capture from video of Democratic Camp member Ehud Barak appealing for parties in the left camp to unite ahead of Knesset elections, July 30, 2019. (Twitter)

When, on the morning after the results of the elections become clear “you will not be able to wash your hands clean if, Heaven forbid, we missed it,” Barak cautioned. “Only a large union will ensure victory.”

Alliances are seen as a way to prevent votes being wasted in support for several parties that share common political goals. Barak’s plea came a day after three nationalist right-wing parties announced a merger deal, and four Arab parties finalized that they too will run together on a joint slate.

Both the left and right are concerned that votes will be lost on smaller parties that may not beat the Knesset threshold of 3.25%, worth at least four seats in parliament.

With Peretz’s mind apparently made up, Labor’s election campaign may well become a fight for its survival.

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