Outgoing Communications Minister and Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon, one of the most popular ministers in Israel, is considering returning to politics after having announced his retirement from the Knesset earlier this month.
Likud members presented Kahlon with an internal poll indicating that a new party, with him at the helm, could win 20 Knesset seats in the upcoming election, Army Radio reported Wednesday. The poll also indicated that if Kahlon were to join forces with former Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, the two could win 26 seats. Kahlon's associates reported that he was considering the possibility, but voiced skepticism that he would actually establish a new party, 83 days ahead of the election.
Pollster Rafi Smith told Army Radio that Kahlon is "the most popular minister in Israel. He would siphon seats away from almost all the parties: Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and even Labor."
Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, meanwhile, signaled to Kahlon that he might be better off crossing over to the Left and joining her party. "Kahlon proved himself as a socially motivated individual, and I understand why he left Likud. He is a worthy individual, and according to an in-depth poll that we commissioned, incorporating him into Labor with me would bring many, many more seats."
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Labor Party did away with the practice of reserving slots on the party's list for specific sectors and districts. This means that the party will have to redraft its bylaws ahead of the upcoming primary elections, scheduled for the end of November.
Party officials believe that by eliminating the reserved slots system, Yachimovich was aiming to push active MKs out of the list and to replace them with her loyalists. Some party members feel that Yachimovich is hoping to replace veteran Labor MKs like Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel, Raleb Majadale, Daniel Ben-Simon and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer with newcomers.
With the elimination of reserved district seats, the party's Knesset list becomes national, with every Labor voter (some 60,000 people) able to vote for any of the candidates without geographical restriction. Until now, only voters who are kibbutz members could vote for the kibbutz slot, only moshav (agricultural community) residents could vote for the slot reserved for a moshav representative, and so forth. Under the new system there will only be quotas in accordance with population sectors. Furthermore, the Druze and Arab sectors will be united into one sector, and the kibbutz and moshav sectors will also be united into one sector.
In her speech at the convention, Yachimovich outlined her campaign platform: to bring back the legacy of the late Yitzhak Rabin and replace the country's defense agenda with a social agenda. "[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman talk about power, I talk about hope," she declared, prompting enthusiastic cheers, accompanied by calls of "revolution" and "our next prime minister." The backdrop was a large poster carrying the slogan "replacing the leadership."
"I am running for the position of prime minister of Israel. Yes, we can replace the current leadership," Yachimovich said. "It is okay, and even recommended, to feel hopeful and to make plans for a better future. Netanyahu was the first person to realize that his victory is not guaranteed. There is only one party that threatens Netanyahu's re-election, and that is the Labor Party. We promise hope."
Also on Tuesday, Haaretz columnist Meirav Michaeli announced officially that she would vie for a seat on the Labor list. "All my adult life I have been a social activist and a feminist. I was never just a journalist," Michaeli told Israel Hayom on Tuesday. "It wasn't an easy decision, to enter the unknown."
Michaeli added that there was nothing wrong with the recent wave of journalists joining politics. "There was a time when it was a given that military men would enter politics at the end of their military careers and no one thought there was anything wrong with that. So now it is journalists. It is a good sign indicating that journalists actually care."