Once mighty Labor party goes to primaries to select meager few

Sixty thousand Labor party electors will vote in 84 polling locations in Israel today.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Sixty thousand Labor party electors will vote in 84 polling locations in Israel to decide the fate of 44 candidates for only five realistic spots in the Knesset, according to the polls. The once-mighty Labor party, founded in 1968 and offspring of the Labor movement which ruled Israel for the first 30 years of its existence, is battling to stay alive in the April elections.

The Labor party had won a respectable 24 seats in the last elections in 2015 in a combined slate with the Hatnua party led by Tzipi Livni known as the Zionist Union. Since then the Labor party has fallen on hard times thanks to a combination of internal party squabbling, a rightward shift in Israeli voting patterns and the emergence of new parties that have siphoned off votes.

In January, Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay dissolved the Zionist Union, splitting with Livni in a hastily called press conference on live television without first informing her. “I had hoped and believed that the change [in party leadership] and our new partnership would lead to our growth, to a real connection,” said Gabbay. “But the public is wise, it sees that that isn’t the situation, and has moved away from us.”

Although Gabbay faced criticism for the move and for the way he carried it out, he weathered the storm to remain party leader.

On Monday morning before the polls opened, Gabbay put his best face forward, telling Israeli newspaper Ynet that “an election day in a democratic party is a holiday. I have no doubt that we will have the best team in the Knesset, I know all the 120 Knesset members, and I say our team is the best, the most ideological, the toughest fighters, and I’m sure we’ll have an excellent team.”

“We are the only party in the bloc that is committed to a government upset, and says we will only sit in a coalition of change … in the end people will understand that voting for the Labor party, this is the only vote that provides an insurance certificate that your voice goes to a governmental revolution and to your ideology.”

Shelly Yachimovich, whom Gabbay appointed as head of the opposition, appealed to her supporters, saying:

“I need you more than ever before, and ask without any embarrassment, for all the help you can give me. But if you don’t flock to the polls today, in your masses – and place me in a high position [on the party list] it’s very possible that I will not be in the next Knesset,” she said.

“A minority of voters, in combination with a few deals and hit lists, means a low placement for me – that’s the truth. A high percentage of free voters will stabilize me and a few other excellent MKs,” she added.

Normally the party leader heads the opposition but Gabbay cannot do so for technical reasons as he doesn’t hold a seat in the Knesset.

There are a number of interesting struggles that will play out in today’s primaries, Israel Hayom reports. There is a battle for the younger generation of the Labor party between Stav Shaffir and Ben Itzik Shmueli, and one between the older generation – Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz.

There’s also a struggle between Avi Gabbay and Labor MK Natan Cabel, who came out openly against Gabbay’s leadership.