Battered Labor touts packed room as sign of new life

Poll shows it would win 9 seats in elections, and Barak’s Independence, 2; Peretz to Barak: "Thou shalt not invoke Ben-Gurion's name in vain."

Labor MKs Peretz Cabel Ben-Simon 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Labor MKs Peretz Cabel Ben-Simon 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
The Labor Party put on a show of force Thursday at a meeting of its executive committee at the party’s Kfar Saba headquarters that became a pep rally for a party struggling to get back on its feet following the departure of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Much of the packed audience actually attended the meeting in order to cheer on Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet LeYisrael chairman Effi Stenzler, who defeated unknown rivals at the event to formally become the party’s candidate for the post.
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But the speakers at the meeting saw the relative lack of empty seats as a sign that Barak’s departure had created enough momentum to lead the party back to center stage, despite its ongoing schisms and undecided problems that will only be dealt with at a marathon meeting of the eight remaining Labor MKs scheduled for Sunday.
“We haven’t seen a full crowd and a show like this in years,” former minister Isaac Herzog said. “It’s almost a miracle.”
Eighty-four-year-old Aharon Yadlin, who was education minister on the party’s behalf from 1974-1977, went further, saying “This meeting should have been been held at a stadium because we could have filled it today.”
Former minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer spoke with pride about his grandson telling him that he and his fellow students had decided to become Labor members for the first time. He told the crowd that he had dreamed about Labor restoring the support it had in the 1992 election in which Yitzhak Rabin led the party to 42 Knesset seats.
“If we can take advantage of the hundreds of people who are coming back to Labor now by displaying unity, my good dreams could come true,” Ben-Eliezer said.
MK Amir Peretz made a point of invoking US President Barack Obama’s slogans, saying “yes we can” and “Political power must be a tool to achieve change.”
He condemned Barak for comparing himself to David Ben-Gurion at the press conference in which he formed the Independence faction.
“Thou shalt not invoke Ben- Gurion’s name in vain,” Peretz said.
MK Daniel Ben-Simon, who just last week begged lawmakers to let him leave the party, was heckled when he spoke.
Former MK Yoram Marciano entertained the crowd by poking fun at Barak and his four allies.
Every time he said one of their names, the crowd booed.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, Ehud Barak,” he said.
“I watched your press conference and I thought it was a circus. When he said he would put the country ahead of himself, I thought it was a satire show. Wherever Barak walks, grass doesn’t grow. But the force of evil has left our midst.”
A poll by the Sarid Institute that was broadcast Thursday night found that if an election was held today, Labor would win nine seats. That is down from the 13 it won in the last election, but up from recent polls taken when Barak headed the party. Barak’s new Independence faction would win just two seats if it ran on its own, according to the poll.
Shortly after the event’s emcee, Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar, announced that polls had opened in the JNF/KKL race, half the crowd that the speakers were so proud of left immediately to vote and go home.