Michaeli first to win Labor primary twice, will lead party in election

Merav Michaeli's back-to-back primary victories were the first ever since the Labor party began its holding primary elections in the early 90s.

Merav Michaeli elected as Labor leader, July, 18, 2022. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Merav Michaeli elected as Labor leader, July, 18, 2022.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Incumbent Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli defeated lawyer and party secretary-general Eran Hermoni on Monday in the Labor primary election for head of the party.

Michaeli received 82.48% of the vote versus Hermoni’s 16.6%. This was the first back-to-back primary victory for a Labor leader in 30 years.

There were 15,070 party members who cast their votes, representing 43% of eligible voters.

Monday’s primary was only for the Labor Party leadership, with the winner automatically becoming No. 1 on the list. The primary election for the party’s list to the Knesset is scheduled for August 9.

Voters were able to vote in person at electronic voting stations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, or online via a link that was sent out via SMS.

 Illustration from a polling station in Jerusalem, as Israelis vote in their general elections, on March 23, 2021  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Illustration from a polling station in Jerusalem, as Israelis vote in their general elections, on March 23, 2021 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Michael's speech

“The fact that for the first time a party chair was chosen twice in a row shows the depth of the change that we did,” Michaeli said in her victory speech. “The Labor Party is choosing continuity. The Labor Party is choosing to continue rebuilding itself. The Labor Party is choosing stability.”

She said that stability was an important aspect of the party’s work this past year.

“This victory is a victory of the values that we believe in and will continue fighting for,” said the transportation minister. “The immense trust you gave me today is a direct continuation of the trust that we built over the past year. Just a year-and-a-half ago, this all seemed impossible. But I insisted, I fought and I did not give up. I did what seemed then to be impossible, and today the Labor Party is choosing to continue the momentum.

"Just a year ago and a half ago this all seemed impossible. But I insisted, I fought and I did not give up. I did what seemed then to be impossible and today the Labor party is choosing to continue the momentum."

Incumbent Labor head Merav Michaeli

“We did not want this election and did everything we could to prevent them. But now that it is here, Labor will head into it with its head held high in order to come out of it larger, stronger and part of an even better government.

“For too long our camp has said to itself, ‘If only we vote strategically and not with the heart, we will win.’ But this does not work. And not only does it not work, it leads to despair. If every one of you goes with what you really believe in and not with the strategic [vote], we will have much more power. And with more power, more influence. And with more influence you will be able to wake up in the morning and see how dream after dream turns into reality.”

Michaeli concluded by quoting Theodor Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream. This is the essence of Zionism.”

What do other politicians think?

Hermoni sent out a statement conceding defeat.

“I am proud of our journey,” he said after the results were published. “Over 2,400 party members expressed their trust in my candidacy for party chair and in our vision for a broad, central and social party, a large governing party. The seeds that we planted on this journey will sprout in the future and return Labor to its glory days.”

After casting his ballot earlier in the day, Hermoni also spoke how of the party “must change direction. I intend to bring a first-rate candidate to run on our behalf for the lead of the country. This is the Labor Party’s role, not a niche party but a large and broad party that presents [an] alternative governing [party].”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated Michaeli, writing on Twitter that he and Michaeli would “continue working together for the good of the citizens of Israel.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister and fellow Labor member Nachman Shai said, “We made history! I congratulate my dear friend and party chair – for the second time – Merav Michaeli. A brave and worthy leader who will continue to lead the party forward. The party members are with you and believe in you, as was proved today.”

What this means politically:

This was the first time that a sitting leader of the Labor Party managed to be reelected since 1992, when the party started holding primaries in which all its members were allowed to vote for the chairmanship and for the list.

Michaeli reiterated on Monday morning that if she wins, Labor will run alone and will not merge with its fellow left-wing party Meretz, which is currently struggling to pass the electoral threshold in polls. “My responsibility is for the Labor Party,” she told Army Radio when asked whether she felt a sense of responsibility for the left-wing bloc.

“In 1992, the Labor Party became the first major party to adopt the ‘primaries’ system, where dues-paying party members are eligible to vote and elect the party chair as well as the list of candidates for the Knesset,” Israel Democracy Institute researcher Prof. Ofer Kenig wrote in an online article. “It is also the only party that has since adhered to this inclusive system, a fact that reflects its high level of internal democracy.”

Kenig also mentioned the party’s Oedipal tendency to take down its leaders. Monday’s primary was the 13th of its kind since Labor adopted the primaries system in 1992.

However, the primary election also reflects the Labor Party’s declining popularity since the early 1990s, Kenig said.

“The prolonged decline in the political status of the Labor Party – from one of the two major parties to a medium-small party – is also reflected in the number of citizens who registered as party members and were eligible to vote in the primaries,” he wrote. “In the first contest (1992), the number of members stood at over 160,000, and it reached a peak four years later with over 260,000 eligible to vote in the internal election. Since then, the number of party members has dropped significantly. In the last 15 years, the number of members has hovered around 50,000, and this time only about 36,000 members... [were] eligible to vote.”