With only a few days to go until Tuesday's primaries, the spirit of the Labor Party candidates who gathered to debate each other Thursday night was low.
Fewer than 50 members of the kibbutz movement showed up to hear the candidates speak, in a small classroom in the Ramat Efal suburb north of Tel Aviv.
"They talk, they talk, but the truth is they just don't seem to have much confidence in themselves anymore," said Dor Yeshimi, a member of a kibbutz in the North. "I want to see the strong party that appeared when [chairman Amir] Peretz was first elected."
Problems have plagued the party ahead of the primaries as it continues to drop in the polls to 16 mandates. Rumors of disputes over campaign strategy have been highlighted by clashes between veteran members and newly added recruits, with many of the former arguing for a new campaign initiative.
"We have to focus and work hard on all issues, not just socioeconomic," said MK Colette Avital. "If Amir wants to be looked at as a prime minister - which he should - he must be present and speak on every issue, like he did this week, when he spoke about Jerusalem. People who elect Peretz will elect someone who also represents their views on security and state issues, not just socioeconomic ones."
Kibbutz Movement director Ze'ev (Velvele) Shor, addressing the crowd between candidates, reminded them of the long history of support between Labor and the kibbutzim.
MK Yuli Tamir, a longtime confidante of Peretz, promised the crowd that Labor would remain strong in its commitment to education. She also said reiterated her support for the current campaign strategy.
"We will stick to the messages we have presented to the public, but we need to make them stronger," Tamir said. "Right now all the news is about the illness of the prime minister. We need to wait until our views are at the center of the campaign again."
Tamir also suggested that much of Kadima's current strength came from the legacy of Sharon, but that when it came time for that party to debate the issues, Kadima would lose public support.
Other candidates also used their debating time to draw out the flaws in the rival parties. MK Isaac Herzog told the crowd that, "People who vote for Kadima do not really know what they are choosing, they are voting for a beauty pageant of candidates," he said.
Earlier in the day, Herzog accused the Bush administration of tampering in Israeli politics by promoting Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Kadima.
"Aside from saying 'Go vote Sharon,' they did everything else," he said. "It is not appropriate, and crosses many lines. I suggest that our friends in the US take into consideration that we are in the middle of an election campaign and they should proceed carefully during this time."