Israel elections: How are Likud and Labor primaries significant? - opinion

One thing is certain: neither the list elected last week in the Labor Party, nor the one elected in the Likud would have been imaginable back in the 1990s.

LIKUD CHAIRMAN and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot in the party primary, last week. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
LIKUD CHAIRMAN and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot in the party primary, last week.

It is difficult to say whether, on balance, the results of the primaries held by the Labor Party last Tuesday and those held by the Likud on Wednesday will make a difference in the final results of the elections on November 1. They are certainly not related to each other, since no right-wing voter chooses between the Likud and Labor, and no left-wing voter chooses between Labor and the Likud.

If one compares the two primaries, it is only because of the fact that there are certain similarities and certain differences between the respective outcomes.

For example, if anyone required a reminder, the results of the two primaries demonstrate that the two parties are no longer the same parties, which first held primaries in the 1990s: in the Labor Party, just before Yitzhak Rabin formed his second government and in the Likud, just before Benjamin Netanyahu won his first general elections.

Labor Party

One thing is certain: neither the list elected last week in the Labor Party, nor the one elected in the Likud would have been imaginable back in the 1990s. Furthermore, if before last week there were still members in the Labor Party or in the Likud who believed, or hoped, that one could reverse some of the changes that had occurred in their respective parties in the last 30 years, these hopes and beliefs were finally dashed.

I participated in the Labor Party primaries and the final result was not far removed from my choices, though I was surprised that not a single older party member was left on the list (not that there were many older candidates, only three if I am not mistaken). I was so sure that the old guard in the party would secure the reelection of ministers Omer Bar-Lev and Nahman Shai, that I included Shai in my list merely as an afterthought.

 Labor leader Merav Michaeli votes in Labor primary elections. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Labor leader Merav Michaeli votes in Labor primary elections. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

But apparently, the proportion of veteran party members amongst the 40% of the registered members who didn’t bother to vote was relatively high. Was it because the voting took place online? Perhaps, even though there were also four physical polling stations – in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba – for those wary of electronic voting, who are predominantly senior citizens. But this is merely a guess.

The Labor list is certainly not the sort of list that a party hoping to form a government would select. However, for a party that seeks to get through the qualifying threshold or even repeat the results of the previous elections (7 seats), it might actually work. The current list is certainly not attractive for veteran Laborites. However, it is much more attractive than in the past for younger voters with a social agenda, including Mizrahim. The drawback is that all the Mizrahim on the list with chances of actually being elected to the Knesset are women.

The list, which includes an equal number of women and men, will also appeal to voters with feminist inclinations, though in general, the Israeli public does not seem to be impressed with the advancement of women in the Israeli body politic during the current term of office of the Government of Change, especially the fact that this government included nine women as ministers.

What the effect of the fact that the first man on the Labor list Reform rabbi Gilad Kariv (the third man is Orthodox) and that there is no Mizrahi man on the list before the 19th slot on the election results, is an unknown.

Likud list

THERE ARE several facts that catch one’s eye when one looks at the Likud list to the 25th Knesset. The first is that there are only five women up to the 35th place (this will go up to six should Netanyahu decide to place MK Idit Silman, formerly from Yamina, in one of his reserved slots).

Secondly, whereas in the list for the 24th Knesset, the first 10 slots included nine Ashkenazi men and MK Miri Regev, in the new list there are three Mizrahi men, in addition to Regev (MKs Eli Cohen, Amir Ohana and David Amsalem). That is no indication that when the time comes, Netanyahu might be replaced by a Mizrahi, only that the Likud’s list is finally turning more balanced between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim at all levels.

Thirdly, all the Likud candidates who did not demonstrate absolute loyalty to Netanyahu or (heaven forbid) spoke of their intention to contend for the Likud leadership either before Netanyahu’s retirement or after, found themselves in much lower places on the current list than they had held in the list for the 24th Knesset.

Fourthly, though in these primaries the organized voters, who reach deals and provide their members with lists of recommended candidates, which systematically exclude other candidates – are much weaker today than they were in previous Likud primaries, while the independent or free voters have grown in number and influence. Netanyahu is known to dislike organized voting because he has little influence over it.

Fifthly, the New Likudniks, as a political force established over ten years ago, claimed that they seek to strengthen moderation in the Likud by supporting liberal candidates or even running for election themselves but whom many others viewed as a Trojan horse that sought to destroy the Likud from within, have vanished, after thousands of their members were thrown out of the party.

Sixthly, most of the candidates who had defected to the Likud towards the elections to the 24th Knesset from other parties for opportunistic reasons, such as MKs Orly Levy-Abekasis and Gadi Yevarkan, were not reelected to realistic slots in the current primaries. In addition, most of the individual outsiders who had sought election in the primaries and had received a good deal of media attention before the event were left far behind in the list.

These included Erez Tadmor (one of the founders of Im Tirzu), Gilad Sharon (son of the late Ariel Sharon, who had encouraged his father to carry out the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005), and Prof. Avi Simhon (who served as Netanyahu’s economic adviser in the years 2016-2021). None of these self-appointed candidates seem to have enjoyed Netanyahu’s support. In fact, of this category of candidates only former Yisrael Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth managed to get into the list in a realistic slot, with Netanyahu’s blessing.

Finally, there is no doubt that the most impressive winner in the Likud primaries was MK Yariv Levin, who served as tourism minister during the 20th Knesset and as Knesset speaker during the 23rd Knesset. He received the highest number of votes in the recent primaries, close to 48,000 out of around 80,000. Some view him as a potential danger to the Israeli democracy because of his rigid right-wing ideology, especially when it comes to Israel’s legal system.

Even though I reject Levin’s ideological positions, I happen to believe that he is a decent man and that if Netanyahu will actually manages to form a narrow government after the elections and appoint Levin to the post of Minister of Justice, he will act judiciously and responsibly. I am much more worried by what Amsalem – one of the most quarrelsome, and foul-mouthed Likud MKs in the course of the 24th Knesset, and number six on the Likud list to the 25th Knesset – is liable to do.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book is Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job.