Michaeli set to retain Labor leadership in primary – a first in decades
Labor leader and Transport Minister Merav Michaeli is set to claim victory in her party’s leadership primary on Monday, making her the first Labor leader since the 1980s to be re-elected to the post for a consecutive term.
Although party sources say a victory for Michaeli is expected, his self-proclaimed ‘outsider’ challenger – party general secretary Eran Hermoni – has said he is mounting his campaign because he thinks Labor has too much drifted to the left and would have a chance of regaining its ‘ruling party’ status if it rebalanced towards the centre.
“From a diplomatic and security point of view, we have been pushed too far to the left. We need to move more to the center,” Hermoni told The Times of Israel in a phone interview on Sunday, adding that the political center is the “natural place” for Labor.
As one of the few political parties in Israel to open its candidate list to voter turnout, the Labor Party will hold a separate primary for the rest of its Knesset slate on August 9, ahead of general elections scheduled for November 1. Michaeli would go down in history if she retains power in the vote, which no Labor leader Shimon Peres did in the 1980s – although Ehud Barak returned to lead the party in 2007 after an earlier stint .
Last year Michaeli brought Labor back into the coalition and, as she has repeatedly said, managed to maintain party discipline within her 7-seat faction despite ideological challenges in the political alliance of the big tent – until it finally collapsed last month. She also claims to have brought energy to her role as Minister of Transport, with a focus on the renewal of public transport and associated infrastructure.
“A little over a year ago, the Labor Party was wiped out by those who were prepared to abandon it as a political mess,” Michaeli wrote in a statement on Sunday.
“I am proud to serve as leader of the party and to rebuild it to fulfill its unique mission as the ruling centre-left party, and I promise to continue working to ensure that it plays a leading role in Israeli politics,” she said. wrote.
“The Labor Party has proven its importance in the leadership of the state over the past year and has proven its stability. We must continue to build the Labor Party into a responsible, Zionist and modern political force, as I have led it, along with my faction and my party partners, over the past year,” his statement continued.
Hermoni, however, suggests that Michaeli did not distinguish the Labor Party sufficiently ideologically from the leftist Meretz.
“With the security issues, I think we went through a process that took us too far to the left and more towards Meretz,” he said. Specifically, the General Labor Secretary said security concerns had taken too little account of the Labor agenda.
“We don’t deal enough with these issues,” he said. “My vision is for Labor to return to being the ruling party,” he added.
“Merav’s perspective borders on connection in all directions,” he said. “I want to be more central.”
A source close to Hermoni clarified that this means moving towards Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party as well as the centrist Blue and White – a move currently complicated by the latter’s recent alliance with the right-wing New Hope party.
Moving to the center would put Labor in more direct competition with these larger parties. Hermoni said he wanted to get away from the rivalry with Meretz.
“It’s not healthy for Meretz and Labor to compete for the same audience,” Hermoni said. He predicted that “once we return to our natural place [in the center]Meretz would have a better chance of crossing the electoral threshold, which current polls — though notoriously unreliable — see him failing.
Michaeli, who was not immediately available for comment, appeared to respond to some of that criticism on Army Radio Sunday morning, explaining that part of the reason she wouldn’t unite with Meretz — as parties did before the March 2020 vote – is that not all Labor voters align themselves with the left-wing party.
“The Labor Party is a centre-left party. There is a range of opinions and political approaches,” Michaeli said. “In the Labor Party today there are many who would not vote for Meretz. In Meretz, there are those who would not vote for the Labor Party.
Michaeli has repeatedly stated that she does not plan to unite Labor with Meretz and will not act as a life raft to bring it over the threshold. Meretz leaders understand their situation, however, and have shown interest.
Hermoni said he would not “disqualify” unification with Meretz, but said a broader centre-left bloc would need to be secured before considering it.
The general secretary also said he objected to how Michaeli narrowed the pool of candidates for the party list by pushing a rule that required six months of Labor membership before running.
“She closed the door for others to come running,” he said.
If his long-running bid to lead Labor succeeds, Hermoni said he would not actually be the party’s headliner. Instead, he would retain the presidency, but recruit an influential public figure to draw votes. Who, he didn’t say.
A third expected challenger for the Labor leadership, Yaron Gadot, dropped out of the race after failing to complete required registration steps, including providing a financial deposit, according to a party spokesman.
According to a party spokesperson, around 36,000 party members are eligible to vote in the Monday and August 9 primaries, across a range of in-person and online voting platforms. Physical booths will be available in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba.