Labor Party leadership candidates Amir Peretz and Avi Gabbay on Sunday made their last-ditch efforts to win voters’ support, as the leadership race entered its final stretch.
Some 52,000 Labor party members will be eligible to vote on Monday in the primary runoff, with polls opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 9 p.m, after which the results are expected within the hour.
In last Tuesday’s first-round vote, which saw incumbent Labor head Isaac Herzog removed from the running, Peretz finished in the lead with 32 percent (10,141 votes), followed by newcomer Gabbay with 27% (8,395), and an overall voter turnout of 59% of Labor Party members.
The two men have since been jockeying for the support of the 41% of Labor voters who had picked candidates Herzog, Erel Margalit and Omer Barlev in the first round.
Herzog and Margalit have since announced they were backing former Labor leader Peretz, while ex-Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich sided with Gabbay.
Yachimovich on Sunday shared a photo on Twitter from the Gabbay campaign headquarters, where she — along with fellow Zionist Union MKs Stav Shaffir and Eitan Cabel, and other activists — were making phone calls to Labor voters to encourage them to vote for Gabbay.
Similar scenes unfolded in Peretz’s campaign center, with MKs Nachman Shai and Hilik Bar manning the telephones to try and persuade undecided voters.
Meanwhile, both Peretz and Gabbay went on a media blitz on Sunday to sway their constituents as the race went down to the wire.
After courting Labor bigwigs over the past week, Peretz was touting his extensive political experience, while Gabbay was presenting himself as a fresh face capable of raising the party out of its years-long slump.
Gabbay and Peretz — both of whom are former environmental protection ministers who served under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and resigned in protest of his policies and the state budget — vowed they would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition.
Peretz and Gabbay are both of Moroccan extraction, but the similarity ends there: A former Labor leader and defense minister, Peretz is a familiar face in the party with a trade unionist background, while Gabbay — a former CEO of the Bezeq telecommunications giant and non-MK minister for the Kulanu party — is a new recruit to the socialist-minded camp.
The two candidates on Saturday faced off in a Channel 2 TV debate, during which Peretz accused his opponent of arrogance.
“A little modesty wouldn’t hurt you,” he told Gabbay during the debate.
“I reached first place and people see in me the person who will succeed in helping the party flourish,” added Peretz. “I promise I will win and on Tuesday the party will have 22 seats [in the opinion surveys].”
“In a Channel 1 survey, Peretz only received 6% in his suitability to be prime minister,” Gabbay retorted. “You can’t say you will bring the party to power when the public is not behind you.”
Opinion polls in the past week have indicated neither Peretz nor Gabbay would be able to lift the Labor party out of third place, behind Netanyahu’s Likud and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Two surveys have shown both would bring the party similar results should elections be held today (18 seats, according to a Walla poll; Channel 2 says Gabbay would get party 14 seats, Peretz 15.)
Peretz, a former Histadrut labor union chief, earned the backing of its current chairman, Avi Nissenkorn, on Wednesday, as well as the endorsement of Labor MK Merav Michaeli.
Gabbay quit as environment minister in May 2016 after coalition talks brought the Yisrael Beytenu party into the government. In a dramatic tirade, he accused the coalition of leading Israel on a path to destruction.
That breakout moment for Gabbay, a relatively unknown minister who was not elected to Knesset, but rather appointed as an external candidate by Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, was followed by his crossing the aisle and joining the fight for the Labor leadership.