Labor MK Shmuli announces bid for party leadership
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Labor MK Shmuli announces bid for party leadership

Lawmaker, 39, says he hopes to restore lost trust in movement by beginning a new chapter of hope

MK Itzik Shmuli reacts after results are announced in the Labor Party primaries in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
MK Itzik Shmuli reacts after results are announced in the Labor Party primaries in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Labor MK Itzik Shmuli announced Wednesday that he will make a bid for the party leadership in coming primaries, saying he hopes to restore the lost trust in the party.

Shmuli is the third Labor lawmaker to throw his hat in the ring to replace Avi Gabbay, who announced later Wednesday that he would be leaving political life after leading Labor to disastrous election results.

“The time has come to take hold of the reins,” Shmuli, 39, said in a video posted to his Facebook page. “I will compete for the party leadership and I will lead it to a new chapter full of hope.”

Shmuli, an up and coming Knesset member who entered politics after leading a popular socioeconomic protest movement, was the top vote-getter when the party held its primary earlier this year.

He joins MK Stav Shaffir and former Labor head MK Amir Peretz, who are also seeking to win the leadership of the party, which had its worst ever showing in April’s election, winning only six Knesset seats.

“This is our moment to restore the trust of the many we lost on the way, to strengthen the values ​​on which we grew up, to form new partnerships and to together break out of the [party] camp’s boundaries to increase the chances of change for the state.”

Shmuli also attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he is motivated solely by a need to escape prosecution in three corruption cases in which he is facing indictments, pending a hearing scheduled for October.

Screen capture from video of Labor MK Itzik Shuli announcing his candidacy for party leadership, June 12, 2019. (YouTube)

“Netanyahu is interested in only one thing, his personal survival and for that he will sell everything that is really important to us: democracy, rule of law, equality.”

Shmuli entered the Knesset in 2013 after making a name for himself as one of the leaders of protests in 2011 that brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets to protest high prices on rent, cottage cheese and other goods.

A former chair of the National Union of Israeli Students, Shmuli rose within the party establishment by aligning himself with Gabbay despite fierce criticism of the incumbent leader from other directions.

As a member of Knesset Shmuli has championed minority rights, disabled people’s rights and benefits for pensioners. After publicly coming out as gay following a deadly stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade in 2015, he has also become a key lawmaker in the battle for homosexual surrogacy rights.

The Labor Party is expected to finalize a July 2 leadership primary this week, with former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, and former prime minister Ehud Barak also mulling runs for the party’s leadership.

Gabbay, a political neophyte who took over the party in 2017, has come under increasing pressure to step down, bearing the brunt of the blame for the sinking fortunes of the party. Formerly known as Mapai, the party led Israel for the country’s first 30 years, gaining legendary status.

Labor is scrambling to resolve its leadership crisis before coming elections on September 17, which were called after Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition and dissolved parliament.

Labor party leader MK Avi Gabbay at a discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil in the party, and the emergence of new political players that have eroded its base.

Adding to Labor’s woes was Monday’s announcement by former IDF general Tal Russo of his retirement from politics and his position as second-in-command of the party.

Russo was placed second on the Labor list in February in a spot reserved by Gabbay, bypassing the party primaries, in a bid to boost its defense credentials.

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