MK Amir Peretz returned to the Labor chairmanship post he held from 2005 to 2006 on Tuesday in a primary marred by the lowest turnout in the history of the former ruling party of the country.
According to results announced Tuesday night at Tel Aviv University, only 46% of the 65,000 Labor members turned out to vote, down from 59% in the last Labor primary in July 2017. Forty-seven percent cast ballots for Peretz, followed by 26.9% for MK Stav Shaffir and 26.3% for MK Itzik Shmuli. Peretz needed 40% of the vote to prevent a run-off race next Tuesday against the second-place finisher.
The victor will now embark on an effort to create political bonds ahead of the September 17 election. Peretz appointed former MK Omer Bar Lev to negotiate with Blue and White, Meretz and former prime minister Ehud Barak’s unnamed party on Labor’s behalf.
"This is a very exciting evening for me and I feel the weight of my responsibility," Peretz said. "This evening should bring hope to the hearts of all peace-loving citizens. I thank all those who supported me and the other candidates, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shafir, who are an important part of the leadership of this party and the next generation."
"I have decided not to hold victory celebrations because of the deep social rift that is intensifying before our eyes," Peretz continued. "The severe outbursts of protests by Ethiopian Israelis is an expression of the many years of discrimination that they carry with them. Tomorrow we will take all necessary actions to unite the party and turn it into a political home for every Israeli.”
Benny Gantz announced that he and Peretz were planning on meeting sometime soon.
"My blessings to @amirperetz for being elected in the Labor party primaries," Gantz said. "I wish him good luck in his position. I spoke to him earlier and we agreed to meet sometime soon."
Former prime minister Ehud Barak tweeted, "Amir, I congratulate you on being elected chairman of the Labor Party and the new path you have set out on. I believe that we can do what is necessary and stand together, together with other forces, in order to bring Israel back on track."
Newly-elected leader of Meretz Nitzan Horowitz said that "we at Meretz are ready to talk about cooperation for the success of the Israeli Left. I expect to speak to Amir in the coming days."
"Congratulation to Amir Peretz on his election as chairman," Shaffir wrote on Twitter. "I'm thanking members of the Labor Party for trusting me and choosing me for second place. From tomorrow morning we are turning to the real struggle against the Right and replacing Netanyahu's corrupt government."
Itzik Shmuli said "I congratulate Amir Peretz on his election to head the Labor Party and wish him success. I would like to thank all my supporters who gave their souls to the election — I love you very much."
All day, candidates complained that polling stations were relatively empty. The demonstrations of Ethiopian-Israelis were used as an excuse to extend the voting at polling stations across the country by an extra hour.
Supporters of the contenders tried to persuade voters to cast ballots for their candidate. Shaffir backers wore her trademark orange wigs, Peretz’s people wore red shirts bearing his signature mustache and Shmuli’s campaign handed out cups of electric blue slushies bearing his logo.
Shaffir symbolically began her day on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, where she became a household name as one of the leaders of the socioeconomic protests of the summer of 2011.
She recalled how throughout her career, whenever she was told she could not accomplish her goals, she defied her naysayers. She vowed to do the same in Tuesday’s leadership primary race.
“They always told me I couldn’t do it, that my generation couldn’t, but I have always proven I can,” Shaffir said. “If all those who support me, those who joined to back me, come out to vote, there will be drama, and tonight I will be head of the party.”
Shaffir, 34, vowed that under her leadership, Labor would be a courageous party on the path of former prime ministers and Labor leaders David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin.
“We will be a party that does not stop fighting for our democracy for even a moment,” she said. “The race is close, but it is possible for an upheaval to take place today. We will build a strong democratic camp with Blue and White, Ehud Barak and Meretz, rehabilitate the party and come back to power.”
But Shmuli warned those who want change in Labor not to vote for Shaffir, because his polls have found that only he could defeat Peretz, who led the polls.
“Labor may be in its worst ever crisis, but we have an opportunity to write a new chapter of hope,” Shmuli said at a Tel Aviv polling station. “There is a close race between me and Peretz. It is forbidden to split the vote of the camp that wants change in Labor. All those who want new sectors in the party and those who left to come home should know that polls show I can double the strength of Labor.”
Shmuli voted alongside his life-partner Eran and their new baby in Tel Aviv at the same time that Peretz voted with his wife, Achlama, near their home in Sderot.
“Labor will return to being a wide political home for all the citizens of Israel,” Peretz said. “Labor under my leadership will restore the party’s bond with the periphery.”
He said Labor would seek bonds with other parties ahead of the September 17 election in a manner that will be completely transparent and that will set aside personal considerations for a greater good.Sonia Epstein and Shaked Karabelnicoff contributed to this report.
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