Reviving Labor party holds primaries for slate in coming elections

With party newly polling above the electoral threshold, some 45,000 members select who will run for seats in Knesset

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli votes in the party primaries on February 1, 2021. (Courtesy of the Labor Party)
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli votes in the party primaries on February 1, 2021. (Courtesy of the Labor Party)

Israel’s Labor party held primaries Monday to choose who will be on its slate for the coming March elections, days after MK Merav Michaeli won the leadership primary and secured the top spot.

Following a surge of some 8,000 new members amid Michaeli’s victory — which has seen a mini-revival for Labor in the polls — 45,093 people were eligible to vote in the primary, casting their ballots via the internet or at nine polling stations.

They each chose five to seven candidates out of a list of 62.

“I am proud to lead the only party in Israel that is holding democratic elections,” Michaeli declared as she cast her ballot via her cellphone at the party’s call center headquarters in Tel Aviv. Though a few other parties do hold primaries, none of them are holding a similar vote for their slates ahead of the election, which will be the fourth national vote in two years.

Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil in the party, and the emergence of new political players who have eroded its base. Since entering the government after the previous election, the party lost virtually all of its support and was predicted by many polls to fail to clear the electoral threshold and not make it into Knesset.

However, Michaeli’s victory in last week’s leadership primaries breathed some new life into the party, which is now seen as potentially winning 4-5 seats in the March 23 general election.

Michaeli took over the party from Economy Minister Amir Peretz. The day after her victory she announced she was pulling Labor out of the coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As a result, Peretz and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli announced they were leaving the party to continue serving as ministers, citing the need to continue propping up the center-left element of the current coalition.

Primary voting began at 11 a.m. Monday and was to continue until 7 p.m.

Among those seeking spots on the slate were former Labor MKs Amir Bar-Lev and Nachman Shai, as well as Ram Shefa, who last week resigned from the Knesset where he was a member of the Blue and White party. Others include reform rabbi Gilad Kariv and attorney Efrat Rayten, a former television personality.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The vote was held three days before the final deadline for parties to register ahead of the March elections, at which time all slates must be finalized.

At Michaeli’s initiative, the final slate will alternate men and women, and is guaranteed to have five women in the top ten places.

Michaeli has said she is open to joining with another party before the election in order to increase Labor’s chances of passing the electoral threshold, but only if they are an “ideological ally.”

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