Kibbutz, Arab voter sectors courted; both groups considered "up for grabs."
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
The contenders for the Labor chairmanship used their final day of campaigning Sunday to make a frantic appeal to the party's kibbutz and Arab sectors.
Every possible member of the campaign teams belonging to former prime minister Ehud Barak, MK Ami Ayalon and Defense Minister Amir Peretz was on the phones or in the field, making personal appeals to members of those sectors to come out and vote on Monday. Campaign strategists are convinced that these two sectors will determine the winner.
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The votes of the sectors, which together comprise more than two-thirds of Labor's 104,000 members, according to estimates by party officials, are considered up for grabs because of the dramatic events of the last year, said a Labor central committee member.
"They could swing toward one candidate or another, there is no loyal support base or anything like that," the committee member said.
During the last national election in March, 2006, many kibbutz members abandoned their Labor roots to vote for Kadima. Most did so out of personal dislike for Peretz, according to the polls, but now the Old Guard is returning in droves, and they are looking for a candidate to represent them.
"I made the decision to vote for Ami Ayalon after I heard each of the candidates speak" said Navot Zistling from Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad in the Jezreel Valley. Zistling, who voted for National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in the last Labor primary in January 2006, had the opportunity to study each candidate for himself, since most of them spent the majority of the campaign in small meetings with party members across the country.
Past primaries have seen kibbutz members vote for candidates who came out of their movement, such as Barak. However, there is widespread disappointment with Barak's term as premier and the business success he has enjoyed in recent years.
Peretz stressed Barak's kibbutz persona over the weekend, calling the former prime minister a "so-called kibbutznik... who lives in a luxury building."
"Yes, it is true that Barak has been successful, and is maybe the most successful kibbutznik," said Hannah Givvar, from Kibbutz Yehudia. "Still, I think many people will vote for him because he did a lot of in-the-field work campaigning."
Givvar said many kibbutz members respected and trusted MK Orit Noked, a Barak supporter who represents the kibbutz sector in the Labor faction.
"She has been working very hard campaigning for him," said Givvar. "People see that and many have received personal phone calls from her."
While Noked spent Sunday making last-minute phone calls to the kibbutzim, other candidates had MKs calling up representatives of the Arab sector to try and pull some votes.
"In some ways the Arab sector is the most unpredictable, because it is unclear how many will actually come out and vote," said an aide to Science and Technology, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle, who is Israel's first Muslim cabinet member.
"The Arab sector has the ability to choose the next leader, if they come out in high enough numbers," he said.
It is precisely such a high Arab turnout that could help Peretz catch up with the Ayalon and Barak, said an aide close to the defense minister.
"Peretz's appointment of Majadle spoke volumes to the Arab community," said MK Nadia Hilu, an Arab-Israeli Labor lawmaker who has campaigned for Peretz. "Many are voting for him on that basis... Others are voting for him because of the support he gets from Labor's Arab MKs... Majadle and I," she said.
Barak, meanwhile, is counting on his long-time ally Ben-Eliezer to garner support for him in the Arab sector. Speaking in fluent Arabic, Ben-Eliezer, who lived in Basra, Iraq, until he was 14, made a series of commercials Sunday morning promoting Barak as the only "candidate serious about the Arab sector."
Ayalon, meanwhile, relied on his own handiwork - several months of face-to-face meetings with local Arab leaders.
"It is still a race that is very much up for grabs. That is why we are seeing so much last-minute scrambling," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who is running a distant fourth in the polls. "There could be many surprises tomorrow."
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