(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor leadership candidate Shelly Yacimovich suffered a blow on Saturday night when none of the three contenders eliminated in the first round of the primary decided to endorse her in Wednesday's run-off race between her and MK Amir Peretz.
Instead, former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna announced his support for Peretz, while MK Isaac Herzog and venture capitalist Erel Margalit both declared neutrality and said their supporters in the party should vote according to their conscience.
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"Both candidates are fit," Mitzna told supporters at a rally in Haifa. "It would have been natural for me to go with Shelly, but I am looking for ideology, a connection to the peace camp and the periphery, and someone who can transcend boundaries, so I decided to support Amir Peretz."
Mitzna said he was advised not to support either candidate but he was not the kind of person who could remain "on the fence." After hinting two weeks ago that he may retire from politics if he lost the race, he announced at the rally that he would seek a slot on the Labor list in the next Knesset.
Peretz released a statement thanking Mitzna for his support and calling him a great asset to the party. Sources close to Peretz said it was significant that out of the six original Labor candidates, including Shlomo Buhbut, none have backed Yacimovich.
Yacimovich expressed disappointment with Mitzna's decision and said she was sure that it did not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of his voters. She called upon Labor members who voted for Mitzna to vote according to their conscience for her.
Labor officials and activists who supported Herzog in the first round are expected to split according to largely ethnic lines in the run-off, with Ashkenazim by and large backing Yacimovich and Sephardi, Druse, and Arab voters going with Peretz.
Herzog made his decision after groups of his supporters each called upon him to support one candidate or the other. Labor members from kibbutzim and well-off cities would have objected to him endorsing Peretz, and his supporters from the Arab and Druse sectors would have been angered had he backed Yacimovich.
"Maintaining unity in the party and preventing a split is our top priority above any personal interest," Herzog and Margalit said in a joint statement. "That is why we call upon our supporters to vote for Labor's chairman according to their conscience and their personal preference."
Both Peretz and Yacimovich released statements praising Herzog's decision and expressing confidence that most of his supporters would vote for them.
Yacimovich was consoled by receiving an endorsement from former minister Ora Namir, who backed Peretz in the last Labor primary and was once close to him.
"Mitzna doesn't control his people and Herzog does, so everything worked out in the end," a source close to Yacimovich said. "If all their supporters come out to vote, we will win."