Meimad breaks with Labor ahead of elections, will run separate list

New list to be headed by Ami Ayalon

ami ayalon 248 88  (photo credit: AP [file])
ami ayalon 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ending a nearly decade-long partnership with the Labor Party, the dovish religious party Meimad met late Thursday to vote through a decision by party chairman MK Rabbi Michael Melchior to run as a separate list in the upcoming national elections, with former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Chief Ami Ayalon replacing him at the top of the party list. The move was approved by 66 votes to 2. The decision comes as a pair of public opinion polls indicate that the once-dominant Labor Party will suffer a stinging blow in the February 10 elections, garnering only 8-10 Knesset seats and, in a humiliating defeat, becoming the fifth-largest party in Israel. According to a 1999 agreement between Labor and Meimad, the latter was allocated the 10th seat on a joint Labor-Meimad parliamentary list, which was filled by Melchior for the past nine years. But with the polls forecasting barely 10 seats for Labor, Melchior was told that the reserved slot arrangement was over. At the same time, Melchior's decision to let Ayalon (who recently left the Labor Party over what he dubbed its failed path) run at the head of the party list, even as Melchior retained his position as party chairman, was seen as an attempt to inject new life and a security background into the party as it set out a new path. Ayalon told the meeting that Meimad was a "natural home" for him, while Melchior said that the Jewish state is not measured by the number of people who keep Jewish commandments, but by "sincere concern for the other, the converts and the strangers among us." Meimad first ran as an independent list in the 1988 elections, but failed to get enough votes to enter the Knesset, only to team up with Labor a decade later. The Thursday night meeting of the party's 120-member leadership council did not deal with the additional members of the party's new list, even though Melchior has been courting environmental and educational groups, Melchior spokesman Nir Hirschman said. Nor was it determined Thursday how the list would be chosen, or whether the expanded party would retain its name. Melchior, who like Ayalon advocates territorial concessions with the Palestinians, has in the past been derisively dubbed by Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who is leading the race to become prime minister, as "Yossi Beilin with a kippa."