Labor’s last hope? - Analysis

Onlookers observed that, unlike past arrivals of new labor chairman, the crowd did not chant “here comes the next prime minister.”

Amir Peretz (photo credit: REUTERS)
Amir Peretz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amir Peretz arrived with great fanfare at Labor’s Tel Aviv headquarters on Wednesday, after winning Tuesday’s party primary by a wide margin. The party staff applauded his arrival, directed him to his office – where his name had been affixed on a door at 5 a.m. – and chanted “chairman of the party.”
Onlookers observed that, unlike past arrivals of new Labor leaders, the crowd did not chant “here comes the next prime minister.”
But any greeting would be better than the empty hall at Tel Aviv University where a victory party for Peretz was canceled late Tuesday night.
Peretz said he canceled it because of the protests by Ethiopian immigrants throughout the country. The socioeconomically minded Peretz could not celebrate when one of the poorest sectors was protesting in the streets.
But it was unclear how much the protests were the real reason for the low turnout and the canceled victory celebration, and how much they were a convenient excuse for a dramatic downturn in the party’s support.
On his way up to the fourth-floor offices, Peretz told reporters that he had a lot more energy at age 67 than his younger counterparts. He will indeed have to work very hard to rehabilitate the party in time for the September 17 election.
Peretz promised 15 seats for labor, four of which he said would come from Likud. To accomplish that, he will have to discern whether potential political bonds are helpful or whether joining forces with the likes of former prime minister Ehud Barak and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz would scare away more voters than it would attract.
The first time Peretz won the labor chairmanship in 2005, the party was also at a crossroads.
Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon formed the centrist Kadima Party around the same time. Peretz found a way to meet the challenge by bringing Labor to new sectors.
 His victory party back then was crowded, and there was plenty of hope that is currently lacking. It is memories of that hope and Peretz’s experience that persuaded nearly half of those who cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary to support him – almost as much as the combined votes of his two youthful challengers, MKs Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli.
Perhaps the low expectations for Peretz are the key to making his second stint as labor leader a surprising success. If that holds true, his staff in Tel Aviv will continue to welcome him warmly.