Israel Elections: Labor resurrects, revitalizes, even if smaller

How did Merav Michaeli do it?

Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli.
Results from the Tuesday night exit polls indicates that the Labor Party appeared to not only escape extinction, but to surprise by securing a “victory” of around seven seats in the Knesset, after predictions and polls showed them receiving fewer seats.
From 2015, the party was led by Isaac Herzog and Avi Gabbay, both of whom led larger and more influential Labor parties, but who little by little allowed the country’s founding party to self-implode.
Amir Peretz came after Gabbay, and his alliance with Meretz reduced Labor’s power even more, bringing it only three seats in the last Knesset. At one point it appeared that he would formally combine with the Blue and White party, ending Labor’s separate existence.
But current leader Merav Michaeli beat Peretz in a lawsuit and in inner-party competition, as well as managing to rally back enough of Labor’s traditional supporters to go into Election Day without the same worries about crossing the electoral threshold that Meretz and others had.
How did Michaeli – who until recently was a mid-level Labor MK with a distinguished career as a journalist, but not necessarily expected to emerge as the party’s leader and savior – do it?
It appears that her return to bread and butter issues for the country’s left-leaning and socio-economic focused part of the population, especially women, is what revitalized the party.
For sure, Michaeli is more in favor of compromise with the Palestinians and more troubled by the settlements than the country’s main right-wing parties.
But this was not her campaign emphasis.
Rather, she highlighted improving healthcare, education, better protections for both maternity and paternity leave, a shorter work week, fighting domestic violence, and a general return to focusing on social justice.
In terms of policy, Michaeli’s main difference from Peretz was that though they both loath Netanyahu, Peretz was willing to join the recent national unity government, and Michaeli was not.
However, on most policy issues they were probably similar, and it seems Michaeli’s positives as an individual are what is winning her more votes than what Peretz might have gotten on his own.
Michaeli is careful to intersperse feminine pronouns as often as masculine ones when she speaks, and she made sure that the top 10 of her list are evenly split between men and women.  
With all of that said, the idea that winning five to six seats for Labor is a “victory” says as much about how far the party has fallen, is as it does about Michaeli’s short-term success.
In the long-term, the party may still cease to exist if it cannot convince center-left voters who have defected successively to Kadima, Yesh Atid, Blue and White and back to Yesh Atid, that it can and will impact the country’s larger direction.
In the meantime, Michaeli’s likely best-case scenario is to be a minor player in a Yesh Atid-New Hope-Yamina led government.