Some 52,000 registered members of the Labor Party are heading to the polls Tuesday to vote for the party's chairman in preparation for Israel’s next general election, scheduled to be held sometime before November 2019.
If no candidates garners at least 40 percent of the votes—a likely scenario, with seven people competing for the job—a run-off will be held between the top two vote-getters next week.
Apart from current party chairman Isaac Herzog, candidates include veteran hi-tech entrepreneur Erel Margalit, former Histadrut and Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, MK Omer Bar-Lev, who is the son of the late IDF Chief of Staff Chaim Bar-Lev, and former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay.
Two additional candidates, little-known party activists Avner Ben-Zaken and Hod Kruvi, are not considered serious challengers for the party’s top spot.
An eighth candidate, ultra-Orthodox Dina Dayan, left the race Monday and threw her support behind current chairman Herzog.
The vote will be held electronically at 80 polling stations across the country and results are expected shortly after the polls close at 9pm.
The Labor Party said the electronic voting system was especially programmed for this election by Eanygo, and it is protected from cyber attacks, hacking attempts and malware.
Some recent polls in the media have cautiously indicated re-election for Herzog, but internal polling sponsored by the candidates shows that no candidate can safely be considered the front-runner.
Inside the party, representatives of nearly all candidates have spent recent days furiously sending text messages to party activists, members of the central committee and members of the party’s Knesset faction, trying to seize the momentum ahead of primary day by citing polls that their candidate is poised to take the party leadership.
Mostly, however, heading into the primary, Labor is a party is deep disarray, wracked by deep internal divisions and a long history of infighting.
Many Labor members have criticized current leader Herzog for trying hard to get the party into a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Former environmental protection minister Gabbay is a newcomer to the party who helped found Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party and has been criticized for “forgetting” during a televised debate that he had voted for the Likud during the government of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2003. Gabbay said afterwards that he got confused between Likud and Kadima, the faction Sharon founded in December 2005 after splitting from the Likud in the aftermath of the disengagement from Gaza the previous summer.
But Gabbay’s campaign has also signed up 4,000 new members to the party, and party activists say they believe Gabbay could emerge as a surprise candidate for the second round, either against Herzog or Peretz.
If re-elected, Herzog would be the first person to accomplish that feat in decades; the party has changed leaders 11 times since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, with an average incumbency of just over two years.
More critical than the identity of the next party chairman, however, is the fact that Labor appears unable to maneuver its way out of the political wilderness. Outside the Knesset, the party appears to be sinking deeper and deeper into irrelevance.
At universities and in traditional Labor strongholds around the country, signs of the primary are scant. Walking around Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, for instance, there are few indications that the party is even holding primaries.
In contrast, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has visited the campus in recent months and the party held several student events during the academic year.
Even inside the Knesset, the party appears to have resigned itself to irrelevance. Senior party activists interviewed for this article said the average age of party members is past 50, with “virtually no” students or under-30s having joined the party leading up to the primary. Asked if the party has given thought to the fact that Labor has not gotten within arm's reach of the prime minister's office since 2000, despite the fact that a strong majority of Israelis support both the party’s diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the Palestinians and its social-economic agenda, one party leader could only shrug.
Reprinted with permission from TPS .
Amihai Attali contributed to this story.