Labor vote confirms deal with Gesher, lets Peretz reserve 2 spots on slate

Center-left party will again run on joint ticket with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s party in March elections despite opposition from key MK

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Labor-Gesher Chairman Amir Peretz (C) and Labor party members at the party's Central Committee conference in Rishon Lezion, December 25, 2019. (Flash90)
Labor-Gesher Chairman Amir Peretz (C) and Labor party members at the party's Central Committee conference in Rishon Lezion, December 25, 2019. (Flash90)

The Labor Party Central Committee on Wednesday approved the continued alliance with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, a decision that was announced earlier this week by both parties.

The center-left party, which picked up just six seats in the last election, also approved a controversial motion to cancel party primaries and let chairman Amir Peretz reserve spots for two new candidates of his choice in the party’s top 10 on its slate for the upcoming election, a spokesman for Peretz said in a statement.

The move was bitterly opposed by Labor’s No. 2 Itzik Shmuli, who is expected to be bumped down the list of candidates and who boycotted the discussion in protest.

“Knesset members of Labor-Gesher are the best elected members of the Knesset and I intend to keep our MKs,” Peretz said in a speech at the committee meeting, adding that he planned to “bring in individuals who can contribute electorally to the party. People whose status is not in doubt.”

Peretz suggested no further mergers were expected among left-wing parties, and hinted Labor-Gesher would not automatically back only a secularist coalition, but was open to joining a government with religious parties.

“We’re the only party that cares about real people,” Peretz declared, asserting that “our alliance expanded the [left-wing] bloc.”

He added: “We are committed to a clean campaign, without any disqualifications or boycotts of other groups and communities. No other alliances with other parties are currently under consideration.”

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announcing their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

On Sunday, Gesher chair Levy-Abekasis vowed the joint faction would “put social issues at the top of the agenda once again. We’re going to talk about the collapsing healthcare system, about free high-quality education from age zero, about our promise that a young couple in Israel will be able to buy an apartment by [paying for it through rental fees], and about how we will raise the minimum wage.”

The move came after both party leaders found themselves hovering just above the 3.25 percent electoral vote threshold in some recent polls.

The Morocco-born Peretz, however, has reportedly leaned against a merger with the dovish and Ashkenazi-identified Democratic Camp, preferring to position his party as the standard-bearer of a more Mizrahi-identified economic left. He already rejected such a union ahead of the September 17 race, calling off talks between the parties and opting instead to join forces with Levy-Abekasis, a former lawmaker with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party and daughter of a prominent Morocco-born former Likud cabinet minister.

But the move failed to deliver the hoped-for boost at the ballot box, with Labor-Gesher receiving the same six seats in September that Labor alone had won in April.

The two rounds of elections in April and September failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The unprecedented political gridlock, in which neither Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White’s Benny Gantz has proved able to cobble together a ruling coalition, drove the Knesset to vote earlier this month on a third election within 11 months, set for March 2, 2020.

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