Absent Ben-Eliezer and Vilna'i can't quash new Labor enthusiasm

The Labor Party's festive mood was only slightly dampened Thursday morning when two high-ranking candidates failed to appear at a faction meeting following their disappointing showing in the primaries. MKs Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Matan Vilna'i were absent from the meeting of the new list at party headquarters in Tel Aviv. While both excused their absence because of "prior personal commitments," Ben-Eliezer was reportedly angry with party chairman Amir Peretz over his low place on the list. "Such is life in a democracy," Ben-Eliezer had said on Wednesday at the press conference marking the launch of the Labor list. Although he appeared upset, Ben-Eliezer promised to work with his fellow Labor members for the good of the party. On Tuesday, 68,331 Labor party members elected a Knesset list headed by MKs Isaac Herzog and Ophir Paz-Pines. Following them are Avishay Braverman, MK Yuli Tamir and Ami Ayalon. Ben-Eliezer was placed eighth on the list, and Vilna'i was elected to the 11th slot. The absence of the two from Thursday's meeting did not quash the exuberance of other candidates on the newly elected list, however. And spirits were also boosted when, as predicted by Peretz, Labor rose in the first polls published following its primaries. While Labor had dropped to an all-time low of 16 mandates ahead of the Tuesday vote, polls on Thursday saw the party jump to 21 mandates in the March 28 national elections. "We have the best people to represent the people of Israel," said Peretz. "It was clear that once the citizens of Israel saw our list, they would see a party they could vote for." According to a poll by the Geocartography Institute, Kadima's standing fell to 40, while Labor climbed to 21 and the Likud to 13. Kadima Chairman Ehud Olmert was still the top candidate for prime minister, with 41 percent of the vote, while Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu garnered 22% and Peretz received 12%. A poll by the Dahaf Institute and the Yediot Aharonot daily showed Kadima with 43 seats, Labor with 21 and the Likud with 12. Army Radio station Galgalatz's poll showed Kadima with 40 mandates, Labor with 21 and the Likud with 14. In all three polls, Shinui was predicted to receive no mandates.