ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Peretz, Gabbay jostle for votes as Labor race hits home stretch

Former Labor leader, ex-Kulanu minister go on media blitz, phone party members ahead of Monday’s leadership runoff

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Labor leadership candidate Avi Gabbay, with Labor party members Stav Shaffir and Shelly Yachimovich, make phone calls to potential voters ahead of the second round of the Labor party primaries in Tel Aviv, on July 9, 2017. (Flash90)
Labor leadership candidate Avi Gabbay, with Labor party members Stav Shaffir and Shelly Yachimovich, make phone calls to potential voters ahead of the second round of the Labor party primaries in Tel Aviv, on July 9, 2017. (Flash90)

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.

Labor party leadership contender Amir Peretz (C), with party members Hilik Bar (R) and Nachman Shai (L) phoning potential voters ahead of the second round of the Labor party primaries in Tel Aviv on July 9, 2017. (Flash90)
Labor party leadership contender Amir Peretz (C), with party members Hilik Bar (R) and Nachman Shai (L) phoning potential voters ahead of the second round of the Labor party primaries in Tel Aviv on July 9, 2017. (Flash90)

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.

Labor party leadership candidate Amir Peretz (C) with Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn and Labor MKs at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Labor party leadership candidate Amir Peretz (C) with Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn and Labor MKs at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“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.)

Labour party candidate Avi Gabbay casts his vote at a polling station in Jerusalem on July 4. 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
Labur party candidate Avi Gabbay casts his vote at a polling station in Jerusalem on July 4. 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

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.

The primaries come with Labor (even combined with the Hatnua party to form the Zionist Union faction) having plummeted over the past year in opinion polls, receiving a projected 10-12 seats, down from its current 24.

The winner of the leadership bid will likely determine whether the center-left party, plagued by internal divisions, is able to become the main challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud in the next elections and, consequently, whether it could seize the premiership.

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