Michaeli clinches second elected term as Labor leader, a first in party’s history

Transportation minister garners 82% of the vote, besting party secretary-general; quoting Herzl, she says, ‘If you will it, it is not a dream’

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Labor leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli at Labor's leadership primaries headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Labor leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli at Labor's leadership primaries headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Merav Michaeli won Monday’s Labor leadership primary, making her the first chair in history to retain her seat in back-to-back contests since the party began holding primaries in 1992.

The Labor chairwoman and transportation minister secured her victory with 82 percent of votes cast, with her sole challenger, Labor Secretary-General Eran Hermoni, gaining 16%. The remaining votes were spoiled ballots.

Labor’s primary for the remainder of its slate will be held on August 9, in anticipation of the November 1 Knesset election.

Addressing reporters in Tel Aviv on Monday, Michaeli said that she “fought” to rebuild Labor at a time that it was in danger of falling below the electoral threshold required to enter Knesset.

“A year ago the Labor party was 0.3% in the polls. I fought for it and insisted that it was viable against all odds and against what everyone believed,” Michaeli said, adding in separate comments to reporters that “only a year and a half ago, all of this seemed impossible.”

“I succeeded and we succeeded and we built the first floor and now we are here to build the second floor,” she said.

Labor leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli votes via phone in Labor’s leadership primaries, at primary headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Quoting Theodore Herzl to say, “If you will it, it is not a dream,” Michaeli in her victory speech said that her “victory is one for values.”

“[Labor] is not giving up on our values, Zionism, our beloved Israel,” she said.

In an interview Monday with The Times of Israel hours before the results of the primary were released, Michaeli vowed to combat Israel’s spiraling cost of living.

Her reelection comes after a tumultuous year in Israel’s most diverse governing coalition yet. Helping to lead a political alliance that incorporated parties from across the political spectrum, Michaeli stressed that Labor was a stabilizing force during the political bedlam.

“We didn’t want these elections, we did everything in our power to avoid them. But now that they’re here, we’re going out with a raised head,” Michaeli said.

Labor spent decades as a leading political force, but has receded over the past 20 years, given the country’s left-wing political crisis, emanating from the post-Oslo Accords intifada and political stagnation.

Whereas Labor had 260,000 registered party members in 1996, today it claims about only one-eighth of that number, 36,000.

Of Labor’s eligible registered party members, about half voted in the primary election. That was an increase in 35% over last year’s contest, according to a Labor party spokesman.

Labor Secretary General Eran Hermoni (Courtesy)

Hermoni ran a campaign on two broad principles, arguing that Labor should move closer to the political center and that Michaeli was not a strong enough figure to return the party to the nation’s leadership.

In a statement shortly after Michaeli’s win, Hermoni congratulated her and expressed hope that the “seeds we sowed” would help guide Labor in the directions he advocated.

“I am very proud of the campaign we ran. Over 2,400 party members expressed confidence in my candidacy for the position of party chairman and in our vision for a broad, centrist and social-minded Labor party, a major ruling party. The seeds we sowed in this journey will germinate in the future and return the Labor movement to its glorious days,” Hermoni said.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Meretz leader Zehava Galon were among the politicians to first join in congratulating Michaeli. Galon is said to being weighing a return to political life, and is reportedly expected to announce her bid to lead Meretz in the coming days. Galon is also interested in uniting Meretz with Labor for a joint run, a possibility that Michaeli has routinely rejected.

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