Country’s founding Labor party survives near extinction

Democratic Union falls to breaking even with Labor

Amir Peretz sports a new look – without his trademark moustache (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Amir Peretz sports a new look – without his trademark moustache
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
From initial results on Tuesday, it appears that the country’s founding party, the Labor Party, made a successful final push to escape what many were viewing as its likely extinction, reaching an estimated five to six seats.
While Democratic Union did not replace the Labor Party as the leader of the Left in Israel, it did achieve an estimated 5-6 seats as well, achieving parity with Labor for the first time.
Like other parties, Labor played the gevalt card and warned its voters, many of who were considering the Blue and White Party, that they needed to vote for Labor or it might not survive.
Still, mere survival being a win is a shocking place for Labor compared to its long history.
How did it come to this?
The forerunner of the Labor Party ran the Jewish Yishuv in British Mandatory Palestine before the founding of the State of Israel, and then ran the country from 1948-1977.
Even after losing power to Menachem Begin in 1977, the party won power back fully or partially with Shimon Peres serving as prime minister for two years in the 1980s, and with Yitzhak Rabin, Peres again and Ehud Barak serving as prime ministers in the 1990s.
However, the last time Labor ran the country was when Barak lost the premiership in 2001.
Since then, Labor has periodically threatened Likud’s leadership of the country – it did have 24 seats until this past April’s election – but was repeatedly sidelined by centrist groups.
First Kadima, then Yesh Atid and finally Blue and White have all stolen voters away from Labor until it fell to six seats in April.
Labor Party leader Amir Peretz’s immediate predecessor, Avi Gabbay, did not do the party any favors, alienating the Right, the Left and then women in general when he fired Tzipi Livni live without even warning her in advance.
The final straw that reduced Labor to the threshold/to extinction was an unpredictable sequence of Barak and Labor Party No. 2 Stav Shaffir combining with Meretz, along with Peretz joining with Orly Levy-Abecassis, who, with her right-wing background, never resonated with Labor’s traditional left-wing voters.
However, in the end, Labor made it through with the Peretz-Levy-Abecassis team up, plus a likely historical sympathy vote.
Meanwhile, Nitzan Horowitz of the Meretz faction of the Democratic Union now leads a party that may only be marginally larger than what Meretz had, but has far more heft, having attracted former prime minister Ehud Barak, former IDF deputy chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yair Golan and former top Labor MK Shaffir.
There is still a lot to be determined.
Technically, Barak is not even in the Knesset, having only reserved himself the No. 10 spot.
Unofficially, he is part of a triumvirate that runs Democratic Union and is by far its most confident spokesperson, able to fire broad sides at other top figures at Israeli politics that take their toll in a way that no one else in this new alliance can.
Who will determine Democratic Union’s platform on key foreign affairs issues, like the Palestinians, where Barak is at most left-center (on Iran, Barak is a hawk who supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire for a pre-emptive strike around 2012) compared to Meretz’s farther Left positions? Golan is also more of a centrist, and joined the party to be with Barak.
Shaffir has mostly focused on socio-economic issues, but will she now stake out more positions on foreign affairs, and if so, where will she stand?
For one day, Election Day, all of these streams were unite behind the message that the public should vote for them in order to end Netanyahu’s reign and with accusations against the Likud for allegedly trying to steal the election.
But now that Election Day has passed, the new alliance will need to decide who it is.