Gabbay and Peretz.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In the 2016 American presidential election, countless numbers of voters who cast ballots in past elections decided not to vote, out of sheer disgust with the behavior of candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Could the same thing happen with Monday’s Labor leadership runoff race between MK Amir Peretz and former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay?
Since they defeated five other candidates last Tuesday and advanced to the runoff, the behavior of Peretz and Gabbay (in no particular order) has been politically problematic to say the least.
Let’s start with the one and only debate between the two candidates, which took place on Channel 2’s Meet the Press program on Saturday. Yes, on Saturday.
These are the two men who claim they can bring new sectors to the party? That must not include the sizable percentage of the population that does not watch television on Shabbat. It is doubtful that too many non-political correspondents invested time in watching a rerun of the debate online Saturday night.
Then there was the fact that the debate took place at all. Debates in Israel are rare, because the front-runners tend to decline to participate, knowing that debates can do them more harm than good.
Peretz, as the first-place finisher in the first round is the front-runner. He felt he had no choice but to agree to the debate, because all five of the major candidates were asked on live TV the previous Saturday if they would come again the following week.
But Peretz’s unnecessary participation made him engage in plenty of petty political issues that are “inside baseball” for viewers who are not political junkies about Labor Party trivialities and frippery.
There was also the negativity of both candidates, especially Gabbay, who made a point of limiting himself to a clean campaign in the first round of the Labor leadership race and abandoned that successful strategy over the weekend.
Gabbay attacked Peretz relentlessly, when the politically wise thing to do would have been to treat the Knesset’s most veteran legislator with respect, like a political mentor or a lovable, mustachioed uncle.
Neither side degenerated to the level of first-round candidate Erel Margalit. They didn’t swear, and the names they called each other were relatively civil. But like Margalit, their attacks on each other hurt themselves more than the subject of their criticism.
Lastly, both Peretz and Gabbay mishandled the portion of the political process of wooing well-known supporters. The time between the two rounds of Labor voting has been “the Six-Day Woo.”
Vanquished Labor leader Isaac Herzog did not like that Gabbay announced – without consulting with him – that he would let Herzog remain opposition leader. That made Herzog look like a vain job-seeker and not the respectable outgoing party chairman.
Margalit’s press conference on Friday in which he endorsed Peretz was odd. First Margalit praised himself and barely mentioned Peretz, other than highlighting his differences with him. Then Peretz did the same thing.
Fifth-place finisher MK Omer Bar-Lev on Sunday complained that his aides had been subjected to harassment by supporters of the candidates in the runoff because he declined to endorse either candidate. The aides reported receiving threats that Bar-Lev would pay a political price for his immunity.
It’s too late to go back and choose other candidates. But the behavior of Peretz and Gabbay could cause Labor members to vote with their feet by remaining at home on Election Day Monday.