(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Incumbent Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog warned his challengers Sunday that if he does not win the July 4 leadership race the Zionist Union bloc he formed with Tzipi Livni could break up.
Speaking at a debate between six of the nine Labor leadership candidates on the Walla News website, Herzog called for widening Zionist Union into a larger bloc that could seriously challenge the Likud in the next election.
“There is a chance that if I am not elected this [Zionist Union] will disintegrate because of tension above and beneath the surface,” said Herzog.
Current challenger and former Labor leader Amir Peretz attacked Herzog, saying that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has ruled out joining such a bloc, adding in a statement that rhymes in Hebrew, “Without Lapid, it’s not a bloc. It’s idle chatter.”
Peretz complained that Herzog has invited former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon to join such a bloc, saying Ya’alon supports “Greater Israel.” Herzog responded to Peretz that “those who want the party to be a twin of Meretz won’t take us anywhere.”
Herzog compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejecting his effort to join Netanyahu’s government to the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, saying that if either had not happened the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and wider Arab world could have progressed significantly.
Criticizing his opponents, Herzog said MK Erel Margalit opposed parliamentary efforts that led to the departure of Basel Ghattas from the Knesset; that former general Amiram Levin does not understand politics; and that former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay “was the central axis in Kulanu that enabled the formation of a right-wing government with [Bayit Yehudi leader] Naftali Bennett as education minister.”
Margalit surprised Gabbay in a section of the debate in which each candidate could ask a question to one other candidate. When he asked Gabbay if he has ever voted Likud and he responded “never,” Margalit played a video on his phone of Channel 2 anchor Dana Weiss asking Gabbay the same question in September 2015 to which he answered ‘yes.’ A source close to Margalit said that had Gabbay answered affirmatively in the debate that he had voted Likud, Margalit had another video clip prepared in which Gabbay said he had never voted for Likud.
Gabbay later released a statement saying he was confused because he voted for Ariel Sharon when he thought he was leading Kadima but in fact was still with Likud.
When Gabbay had his chance to ask a question of a candidate, he asked Peretz if he would remain in the party if Gabbay wins the race (Peretz had left when MK Shelly Yacimovich was Labor leader) and Peretz responded by committing to remain and stand beside any winner in the race in an effort to defeat Netanyahu.
The other two candidates in the debate, Levin and MK Omer Bar-Lev, attacked Netanyahu.
Bar-Lev said: “In his effort to keep [the Arab neighborhood] Shuafat, Netanyahu will lose the Western Wall.”
“I know Bibi well, I was his commander, and if face him as Labor leader, he will blink,” Levin said.
All the candidates in the debate said they would welcome former prime minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak back to the party but not make way for him to return to the party chairmanship.
Speaking Sunday at an event of the Berl Katznelson Center marking the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, Barak said the current leadership of the country was “destroying the Zionist dream.”