Primary season kicks off with Labor leader election

The two contenders for the party leader are Merav Michaeli and party Secretary-General Eran Hermoni with diametrically opposing views.

 Labor leader Merav Michaeli is seen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Labor leader Merav Michaeli is seen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Monday’s vote for the Labor Party leadership marks the opening of primary election season. All party lists must be handed in by September 15.

This week’s Labor primary is only for the party leadership, with the winner automatically becoming number one on the list. The primary election for the Labor list is scheduled to take place on August 9.

The two contenders for party head are incumbent leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, and lawyer and party secretary-general Eran Hermoni. Their views of the party’s future are almost diametrically opposed.

Michaeli has said if she wins, Labor will run alone and will not merge with its fellow left-wing party Meretz. Hermoni, on the other hand, said he plans to bring a “leading public figure” to lead the party and bump himself down to number two. He revealed on Friday that the figure is former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who is also being courted by Blue and White – The New Hope and by Yesh Atid.

“Gadi Eisenkot should not make do as number two or three,” Hermoni told supporters on Friday evening. “He needs to lead the party and the country. If I win, I will do all in my power to bring him to us, to open up the door that was closed.”

"Gadi Eisenkot should not make do as number two or three."

Labor Secretary-General Eran Hermoni
Zionist Union MKs Michal Biran, Yoel Hasson, Yosi Yona, Isaac Herzog, Zipi Livni, Avi Gabbay, Omer Bar-Lev and Eran Hermoni at Supreme Court protest in Jerusalem, April 21, 2018. (credit: UDI SHAHAM)Zionist Union MKs Michal Biran, Yoel Hasson, Yosi Yona, Isaac Herzog, Zipi Livni, Avi Gabbay, Omer Bar-Lev and Eran Hermoni at Supreme Court protest in Jerusalem, April 21, 2018. (credit: UDI SHAHAM)

If Hermoni wins, he will strive to merge with a “centrist party,” presumably Yesh Atid, he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week. Besides creating a large Center-Left party, such a merger would also benefit Meretz. The party could then present itself as the only fully left-wing party, thereby making it more likely to pass the electoral threshold. This makes the move a win-win, Hermoni claimed.

All of Labor’s current ministers and MKs published a letter in support of Michaeli on Sunday.

“For the first time in years, the Labor Party is promoting partnerships instead of partisanship, while at the same time aspiring to maximize the personal abilities and worldviews of all of the faction members,” the letter says.

The letter then commends Michaeli for her leadership, citing, among other things, her “ability to lead a complex government ministry and raise a party off the ground,” and her “ability to maneuver and live in the ever-present tension between the coalition’s stability and realizing the values of the Labor Party.”

Likud

The Likud announced last week that its primary election would take place on August 3. However, the election might be postponed due to an internal legal battle for control over the party’s list between Likud and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and a number of MKs who are well connected in the party’s institutions, including Haim Katz, Yisrael Katz, David (Dudi) Amsalem and David Bitan.

Ten spots on the Likud list are reserved for representatives of the party’s 10 regions. For most of the past decade, these spots were chosen by the Likud’s central committee, a 3,200-member body that serves as the party’s internal legislative body. However, a three-person Likud court on Tuesday decided that candidates representing the 10 regions will be chosen by all Likud members from those regions, and not by the central committee.

This move is widely viewed as being supported by Netanyahu, since it wrests power away from central committee head Haim Katz and Likud secretariat head Yisrael Katz. Netanyahu can now back candidates who are unaffiliated with either.

Haim Katz and a number of other Likud members appealed the decision. An enlarged five-person court will hear the case on Wednesday.

The issue is more than just a technicality. The legal battle is shaping up to be significant since it pits Netanyahu’s power against that of Haim Katz and the other MKs and central committee members. A win by Netanyahu would signal that he still has virtual total control over the party. However, a loss could signal a shift in internal Likud power politics as the party begins to think about the day after Netanyahu.

The legal battle might lead to a postponement of the primary election.

What is going on in Meretz?

The Meretz primary for both party leader and party list is scheduled for August 23.

The situation in Meretz remains unclear, however, as a number of members announced that they were not running in the primary. The only candidate so far for the party leader election is Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan. However, former Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On has reportedly decided to run as well. One of her supporters is Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej. Frej on Sunday morning said he believed that Gal-On would announce her candidacy in “a day or two.”

Faction chairwoman Michal Rozin also announced that she supported Gal-On over Golan.

Meretz has polled just over or under the election threshold since the elections were announced on June 20. A slew of retirements is seen by some as an attempt to jump off a sinking ship before it goes under.

Retirements include Frej, current Meretz leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and Knesset veteran and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg. Horowitz will still compete for the party list but is relinquishing the party leadership race. He has not yet said whom he supports as his replacement.

A poll reportedly ordered by Gal-On showed that Meretz under her leadership would win six Knesset seats and Labor only four, Channel 12 reported last week. This would alter the balance of power on the Left and could be a decisive factor in whether the two parties end up merging.