Labor votes to keep Amir Peretz at helm

Center-left party will again run on joint ticket with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher in March elections, leaders decide; final vote expected Wednesday

Labor-Gesher party leader MK Amir Peretz speaks with the media after casting his ballot at a voting station in Sderot, during the Knesset elections, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)
Labor-Gesher party leader MK Amir Peretz speaks with the media after casting his ballot at a voting station in Sderot, during the Knesset elections, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

The Labor Party management on Tuesday unanimously voted to keep Amir Peretz as its leader ahead of the March elections.

It also confirmed its continued alliance with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, a decision that was announced on Sunday by both parties.

The center-left party, which picked up just six seats in the last election, also called off party primaries ahead of the unprecedented third election in under a year.

All the decisions still require final approval from the Labor Central Committee, which will vote on them on Wednesday.

“We are happy that while other parties are busy with internal political struggles, the combination of Labor and Gesher and the existing team is a public and political asset for the upcoming election,” said Labor’s secretary-general Eran Hermoni.

In his Sunday announcement, 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)

Gesher chair Orly 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.”

Earlier this month, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp had reportedly renewed talks on merging their two left-wing lists if a new election was called. The move came after both 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 Gesher, headed by Levy-Abekasis, a former lawmaker with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party and daughter of a prominent Morocco-born former Likud cabinet minister.

Labor chairman Amir Peretz (L) shakes hands with Meretz (and later Democratic Camp) chairman Nitzan Horowitz on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

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 last week on a third election within 11 months, set for March 2, 2020.

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