Labor on last legs becomes laughing stock - analysis

Michaeli, Herzog, Shochat prevented from voting as party that founded state becomes mockery

Israel's Labor Party holds primaries ahead of the March 2021 elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel's Labor Party holds primaries ahead of the March 2021 elections.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a break from politics and was prevented from casting his ballot in a Likud primary at the Jerusalem International Convention Center because he did not bring his identity card, it was absurd – but it was not a reflection on the party.
But MK Merav Michaeli, the leading candidate to head Labor, being prevented from voting in her own party’s primary while cameras were rolling is quite another story.
Michaeli was delayed by polling station officials in Tel Aviv for half an hour, because her name was not found among the 37,104 eligible Labor members in the computer system. She was eventually allowed to vote, but the damage was already done.
Former Labor chairman Isaac Herzog did not even bother coming to vote, after a quick computer check found that he was not in the system either. 84-year-old former finance minister Avraham Shochat came to the same polling station as Michaeli, and he was not allowed to cast a ballot.
The situation was not much more impressive in Jerusalem, where voting was held at the Agron Guest House near the capital’s Paris Square, the site of weekly demonstrations against Netanyahu.
Ten minutes before the voting was set to begin, the gates were locked, with no sign that an election was about to begin at the site. A paper sign saying “Labor Party primaries” was eventually taped on the gate, but when activists tried to put up posters of their candidates, police took them down.
The wife of a Labor politician came to vote, but when she saw the gate was locked, she left without casting a ballot.
Later on, a long line of Labor members came to cast ballots. As each one came, one after another expressed their astonishment.
“I thought I would be the only one here,” one Labor member said, before being told that the only reason for the line was that despite the six polling stations at the site, only two people were allowed in at a time, due to the coronavirus. Separating the polling stations into two or three separate rooms in the empty building did not occur to anyone.
In the line, Labor members traded their confessions.
“I’m only here, because I forgot to cancel my membership,” one admitted.
An elderly woman bragged about casting ballots for David Ben-Gurion and spoke of the importance of strengthening his party and keeping it alive. But when asked who would get her vote in the March 23 election, she said Yesh Atid.
There were eight candidates who registered to run for Labor leader the same day that Panels Research found that the party only had the support of 0.7% of the population, which means there were twice as many candidates as people who supported Labor in the survey.
The candidates included immigrants from Ethiopia and Long Island, a settler who owns a dog grooming business, an online casino millionaire and a belly dancer.
Nevertheless, there were still text messages sent to party members warning that candidates were making political deals.
Corrupt deals were once the only embarrassment in the party. Now, there is so much more to not be proud of.
But one Labor member in the line took his party’s misfortunes in stride and put the primary in the proper perspective.
“I never thought I’d say this,” he said. “But this is the first time I’m really glad I’m wearing a mask.”