Labor moves toward finalizing leadership primary, in blow to Barak and Peretz

Motion advanced by former party leaders to have Labor committee appoint the next chairman is shelved; insiders will also debate whether slate remains unchanged

Avi Gabbay (C), leader of the Labor Party with party members and MKs after the results of party primaries are announced in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Avi Gabbay (C), leader of the Labor Party with party members and MKs after the results of party primaries are announced in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The embattled Labor Party is on course to hold a leadership primary next month ahead of the September general elections, after a proposal advanced by former party leader Amir Peretz — and reportedly pushed by Ehud Barak — to task the center-left party’s central committee members with picking its next chairman was shelved on Thursday.

Members of the party’s central administrative body will also be presented with a motion next week to keep the Labor slate identical to its line-up for the April elections, averting another full party primary.

An internal Labor legal panel had considered presenting several proposals to the some 3,400 Labor Party conference members for a vote next week, including one calling for a leadership primary, and another Peretz-advanced motion urging an appointment of a new chairman by the insiders of the conference.

But on Thursday, the panel said only the call to hold a leadership primary open to all tens of thousands of registered Labor Party members on July 2 would be advanced.

Former defense minister Ehud Barak, right, sits next to Labor MK Amir Peretz as he attends a meeting in the Israeli parliament on March 19, 2012. (Uri Lenz/Flash 90)

The Labor secretariat later said a motion calling for the party list to remain as is would also be submitted for approval next week. Should it fail to clear a vote by committee members, another Labor Party primary would be held before September. The last Labor primaries were held in February.

The decision on Thursday was seen as a blow to Barak. The 77-year-old former prime minister, defense minister, Labor leader, who is perennially on the cusp of a political comeback, was working behind the scenes to advance the bid to have the committee pick the next Labor leader as it would improve his prospects of winning, according to Hebrew reports this week.

Over the past week, Barak has been rumored to be seriously contemplating his return to political life, which would either see him establishing a new party or returning to the Labor Party in an effort to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to a report by the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday, Barak has categorically ruled out the former option and is now pursuing the possibility of teaming up with Labor as well as big political names such as Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni, Gesher head Orly Levy Abekasis and Ahi Yisraeli party founder Adina Bar-Shalom. The latter is the daughter of the Shas party’s late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and former prime minister Ehud Barak (left) attend a screening of the documentary on ‘Operation Isotope,’ the 1972 operation on the hijacked Sabena plane, at Cinema City in Jerusalem, August 11, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Barak, who was the last leader of Israel’s Labor Party to hold the country’s top office, reportedly sent out feelers to Labor Knesset members seeking their support for him to temporarily run the struggling party for a year and see it through the elections.

With other Labor members jostling to replace current party chairman Avi Gabbay, Barak is commissioning his own public opinion polls and will make a final decision based on the results, the report said.

The former premier and army chief has tested the waters several times over the years and hinted last December that he would run if a center-left political bloc was formed, but ended up sitting out April’s elections. Under the leadership of Gabbay, Labor was ultimately decimated in that vote, dropping to its worst-ever total of six seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The much-weakened party’s reputation sustained another beating after it emerged that Gabbay had seriously considered an offer by Netanyahu to join his coalition last week, before turning it down.

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay (right) with party member Tal Russo as the results of the Knesset elections are announced at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019. (Flash90)

Kan reported that Barak has hinted that if former deputy IDF chief of staff Yair Golan were to throw his hat into the ring in the Labor leadership primaries, there would not be a need for him to run as well.

“Golan is an excellent person and worthy of the job,” Kan quoted Barak as saying.

Other candidates mulling a run are senior MK Itzhik Shmuli, and the party’s No. 2, former IDF general Tal Russo. However, popular MK Stav Shaffir said she would not run unless it was in a race with open primaries.

Another candidate considering a run to lead Labor is one of the party’s former heads, Peretz, who was defeated by Gabbay for the post in 2017. But according to Kan, officials within Labor are not happy with the idea, claiming Peretz is planning on creating a joint bloc with Likud after the September vote in an effort to ensure that he will be named successor to President Reuven Rivlin, who is slated to complete his seven-year term in 2021. Peretz dismissed the report in an interview with Kan, calling it “an imaginary scenario.”

On Sunday, Gabbay announced that the party will hold a vote for the chairmanship but not primaries for the rest of the ticket in the upcoming election.

Channel 12 news reported later that day that Gabbay had told associates that if he is not elected to be head of the party, he will not remain an MK.

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