Ben-Eliezer could be kingmaker in Labor race

“I was chairman of Labor and I know what is needed for the job,” the Labor MK says.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
September 5, 2011 04:15
2 minute read.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-El

ben eliezer writing 311. (photo credit: Eli Neeman)

 
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The Labor Party’s elder statesman, MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, intends to endorse a candidate, if, as expected, the five candidate September 12 leadership race ends in a run-off race nine days later, Ben-Eliezer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Ben-Eliezer, 75, has long been seen as the party’s strongman, and even though his closest allies among Labor activists have scattered among the candidates, he could play a significant part in deciding who the next Labor chairman will be.

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“Fuad [Ben-Eliezer’s nickname] still has strength, and he can be a kingmaker,” a spokesman for one of the candidates said. “There’s a reason why people keep going to see him.”

Ben-Elizer was initially seen as a backer of former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna. On a visit to Mitzna in December in which Ben-Eliezer urged Mitzna to run, Ben-Eliezer even said that “only Mitzna can save the party.” But since then, Ben- Eliezer has maintained neutrality.

Some 40 activists from Labor’s young guard who support Mitzna wrote Ben-Eliezer on Sunday, urging him to reconsider his neutrality for the good of the party.

“Who among the candidates can fight Bibi [Binyamin Netanyahu] and the Right and make Labor ethical, socioeconomic, dominant, and relevant in the next general election?” the candidates wrote Ben-Eliezer. “That’s why we decided to write you and ask you to get off the fence and take an active step for the good of Labor’s success and its return to center stage on the political map.”

When asked about the letter, Ben-Eliezer reiterated that he would “support all the candidates” until September 12, but he revealed for the first time that if there is a second round, he will choose a candidate based on the contender’s leadership, personality and ability to bring Labor as many Knesset seats as possible.

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“I was chairman of Labor and I know what is needed for the job,” Ben-Eliezer said.

The one candidate seemed as least likely to obtain Ben-Eliezer’s support is MK Shelly Yacimovich, who openly sparred with him on numerous occasions.

Critics of Yacimovich, including former Labor ministers, have asked Ben-Eliezer to endorse a candidate now, because they fear that Yacimovich could obtain the 40 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a run-off race.

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni criticized Yacimovich over the weekend in an interview with Ma’ariv. The opposition leader painted Yacimovich as an extremist on socioeconomic issues.

“If Bibi is at one extreme with his capitalism that tramples over people, she is at the other extreme,” Livni said.

Yacimovich responded that “Netanyahu and Livni are Siamese twins on socioeconomic issues and differences between them cannot be found, even under a magnifying glass.

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