New Labor chairman Isaac Herzog promised his supporters at his victory party at Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolow Friday morning to lead Labor back to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Herzog won 58.5 percent of the 28,806 votes cast, compared to 41.5% for incumbent Shelly Yacimovich. The turnout was only 52%.
“We’ll work day and night to return the party to where it belongs,” Herzog said. “We are embarking on a new journey today, at the end of which we will once again be a large party that can challenge the [current] Israeli government and lead the country.”
Calling the current period historic and fateful for Israel, Herzog called upon Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to move the peace process forward with the Palestinians and questioned his intentions on that front. He gave no indication that he intends to join a Netanyahu-led government, as Yacimovich charged repeatedly during the campaign.
In an interview with Channel 2 Saturday night, Herzog said, “It does not make sense for us to join the Netanyahu government in its current format,” adding that the prime minister knows of his intention not to join.
He will meet with Netanyahu this week, after he formally becomes opposition leader.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was among the figures who called Herzog, who said he would meet with the Palestinian leader soon.
Herzog was thronged by his supporters when he entered his victory party on Friday.
Under a rain of confetti, they chanted “Ooh, ah, who is coming? The next prime minister” and “Yalla, Bibi. Go home.”
The son of former president Chaim Herzog, the Labor leader said he was well aware of the responsibility on his shoulders and the large shoes of his predecessors that he would try to fill.
Yacimovich called Herzog to concede the leadership race when it became apparent that she could no longer catch up. She congratulated Herzog and the two of them agreed to work together to advance the goals of the party.
Herzog said in his speech that he looked forward to running the party together with Yacimovich and that there were no more camps in the now-united party. But none of the nineMKs who supported her attended Herzog’s celebration.
Labor has overthrown its leader eight times since 2001.
Yacimovich, who served as chairwoman for two years and two months, told her supporters Saturday night that they should not undermine Herzog the way that she believes her opponents did to her. She said that she was surprised by the results, but that she would stay in the party and her supporters should too.
In a post on her Facebook page, Yacimovich thanked her supporters and urged them not to give up on Labor’s social-democratic vision.
Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar told Army Radio that he would work to change the Labor Party’s constitution to prevent another situation in which a primary race for the chairmanship happens so soon after the general Knesset elections.
“I’ve been the secretary-general of the party for a little over three years, and this would be the fourth chairman I’ll work alongside,” he said.
President Shimon Peres, a former Labor leader himself, called Herzog to congratulate him for his primaries win.
“As Labor chairman, great responsibility rests on your shoulders. This is a serious job, you must serve the people and the country in the best way possible,” Peres told Herzog.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni expressed satisfaction at Herzog’s victory, saying she believes the Labor leader is “truly committed to a diplomatic accord” with the Palestinians.
“I believe [Herzog] truly believes and is truly committed to a diplomatic accord and I hope he will join the effort to help change the future for all of us,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Friday morning.
“The peace process requires true support and not conditional one,” she said, adding that she hopes Herzog could help her stop the extremists in the Israeli government.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On was among the first politicians to congratulate Herzog, urging him to keep Labor in the opposition and not join Netanyahu’s coalition.
Other messages of congratulations arrived from across the political spectrum.
“Congratulations to [Isaac] ‘Buji’ Herzog. He has been a friend of mine for many years, and I am happy for him for his victory,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid wrote on his Facebook page.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, one of Herzog’s main supporters, expressed pleasure at the result. He told the crowd at the victory party that he was too happy to be jealous of Herzog.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett congratulated Herzog, wishing him success in his future political endeavors.
“There were days when the Bayit Yehudi party and Labor Party collaborated,” Bennett told Herzog. “And I hope we will once again find ways to work together for the people of Israel.”
Labor MK Itzik Shmuli, who backed Yacimovich in the race, congratulated Herzog and said that there are no “good and bad” candidates in this race.
“There is a legitimate campaign, and the members of the Labor Party have spoken their minds in a very clear manner, and we must respect that,” he said.
“Tomorrow morning, the government will not be more social or more peace-seeking, and we will all do the best we can to strengthen the party under Herzog’s leadership to make it an alternative to the current government, until it can replace it,” Shmuli added.