The Labor race

Examining the potential candidates in the race to succeed Ehud Barak as chairman of the Labor party reveals which MKs are more viable for the position than others.

Labor Party 521 (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Labor Party 521 (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
The socialist: Shelly Yachimovich, 50, is a former radio and TV broadcaster who focuses on socioeconomic and labor issues. One of the more diligent legislators in the Knesset, she has shepherded the enactment of a raft of laws on labor relations enshrining workers’ rights. After making her name nationally as a socially aware presenter of the popular radio talk show, “Hakol Diburim” (“It’s All Talk”), from 1993-2000, Yachimovich worked in television before joining the Labor party two weeks after Amir Peretz was elected leader in November 2005. In the Knesset since March 2006, she has served on the Finance and State Audit Committees and is currently chair of the House Ethics Committee. Yachimovich has been vocal in her opposition to privatization and astronomically high salaries in the public sector, but has had little to say about the peace process. She argues that if Israel makes peace with its neighbors but fails to create a more caring and egalitarian society, it will have achieved very little. A recent Haaretz poll showed Labor winning just five Knesset seats without a new leader being named, but ten under Yachimovich.
The favorite son: Yitzhak Herzog, 50, is the son of Haim Herzog, the 6th president and the grandson of Yitzhak Isaac Halevy Herzog, a former chief rabbi. The outgoing minister of welfare and social services, Herzog has also served as tourism minister and minister of housing, and has more ministerial experience than any of the current candidates. Alawyer by profession, he was a partner in the leading firm Herzog, Fox and Neeman (founded by his father and including Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman), and served as cabinet secretary in Ehud Barak’s government from 1999 to 2001. Elected to the Knesset in 2003, Herzog was the Labor whip, and sponsored a law regulating the social support in Israel of South Lebanese Army soldiers and another banning employment of sex offenders in institutions for the mentally handicapped. With a capacity to create warm personal relations, Herzog enjoys strong support across the party, coming in first in the 2008 primary for the party’s Knesset candidates. With him as leader, the Haaretz poll gives Labor eight seats.
The economist: Avishay Braverman, 63, an economics professor with experience in the World Bank, served as president of Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University from 1990-2005, turning it from an educational backwater into one of Israel’s foremost institutions of higher learning. He inherited a school with just 5,700 students and a huge debt, and left it with a student body of over 17,000, balanced books and a state-of-the-art technological park. He entered the Knesset in 2006, passing a law establishing minimal qualification criteria for directors of public companies. As chairman of the Finance Committee in 2008, he helped guide the national economy through the global recession. Until Labor’s resignation from the Netanyahu government, Braverman served as minister for minority affairs, securing a $220 million budget for economic initiatives and infrastructure development in the Arab sector. The Haaretz poll shows Labor winning just five seats with Braverman as leader.
The dark horse: Amir Peretz, 58, is a former Histadrut Trade Union and Labor party leader. His meteoric public career began with his election in 1983 as mayor of the southern border town of Sderot at the age of 31. A Labor Knesset Member from 1988, he became Histadrut Trade Union boss in 1995. During his ten year tenure, Peretz ensured the union’s survival by selling off most of its assets, and made his mark as a powerful opponent of the neoliberal economic policies of successive governments. In 1999 he established One Nation, a worker-oriented party, winning two Knesset seats in 1999 and three in 2003. In 2005, he led One Nation back into the Labor fold, and was elected Labor leader in November that year narrowly defeating the incumbent Shimon Peres. With Peretz at the helm, Labor won 19 seats in the 2006 national election and joined a Kadima-led coalition under Ehud Olmert, where Peretz controversially chose the defense portfolio. After the IDF’s relatively poor performance in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, critics targeted Peretz’s inexperience in defense matters, setting in motion events that saw him ousted by Ehud Barak as party leader and defense minister the following year. When Barak announced his defection on January 17, a disgruntled Peretz was reportedly on his way to Kadima with fellow Labor legislator Eitan Cabel. But with Barak gone, Peretz is intimating that he might try to recapture the party leadership.
The outsider: Amram Mitzna, 65, an ex- IDF general who headed Central Command during the first intifada which erupted in 1987, is also a former Labor party leader. Mitzna first came to prominence in 1982, as the general who publicly challenged Ariel Sharon over the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in the First Lebanon War and demanded his resignation as defense minister. Immediately after his retirement from the army in 1993, Mitzna was elected mayor of Haifa, a position he held for nearly ten years, until his election as Labor leader in November 2002. After the January 2003 election in which Labor also won 19 seats, Mitzna declined then-Likud leader Sharon’s offer to serve in his government and came under intense pressure from other leading Laborites, especially Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who thought he had made a mistake. Within months Mitzna resigned as Labor leader, and left the Knesset in November 2005 to help rehabilitate the small Negev town of Yeruham as the appointed head of the ailing local council. After concluding his five-year tenure there, Mitzna, a prominent member of the dovish Geneva Initiative for peace with the Palestinians, has been wooed as a prospective leader of the Israeli left. Under Mitzna, the Haaretz poll gives Labor nine seats.