Labor newcomers were catapulted to the upper slots of the party's Knesset list during Thursday's primaries, according to official results released on Friday. The make-up of the list is a big win for former party head MK Amir Peretz, who managed to have his preferred candidates dominate the new Knesset list's top positions.
Although veteran politicos in the party such as Peretz and former ministers Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer and Isaac Herzog received safe spots high on the list, new faces were everywhere. Journalist Merav Michaeli, in her first foray into national politics, made it to fifth place. Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, who led the social justice protest of 2011, won the 9th and 12th places respectively.
Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, as the head of the party, was secured the first place and was not up for election. A significant number of the candidates she endorsed failed to make it to the first 20 slots on the list, reducing their likelihood of gaining Knesset seats, if polls are correct. Herzog's first-place finish (after Yachimovich) was one of the few bright spots for Yachimovich, who managed to have longtime detractor and rival Peretz placed third on the list.
The vote has become a proxy war for the ongoing spat between Yachimovich and Peretz, with both warring camps trying to see their preferred candidates dominate the party's top positions. Yachimovich was brought into the party in 2005 by Peretz after the former won the party chairmanship. He fell out of favor with the party, and the general public, in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, and lost his position to Defense Minister Ehud Barak in 2007. Last year, in an effort to reclaim the party leadership, he was defeated by Yachimovich. The two have yet to fully reconcile, and Yachimovich has failed to win over a large number of Peretz's supporters.
Some 58% of eligible registered party members turned out, with polls closing at 10 p.m. The turnout met expectations, and there were no major disruptions (unlike the Likud primaries earlier this week, which were plagued by technical glitches that forced organizers to extend the voting by a day). Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich arrived at Beit Berl College on Friday as the results were coming in, and praised the outcome of the vote.
"We have now concluded an amazing democratic process where a large number of people participated in free elections," Yachimovich said. "We have the only party where there are real primaries, that are both honest and democratic and enjoy a huge turnout." She also said, "Even in my wildest dreams I could not have envisioned such a line-up; we showed the Likud how it's done, how to run a smooth election campaign that runs without glitches and produces the best results."
The head of the Likud media response team, MK Ofir Akunis, was quick to denounce the new list on Friday, saying the new Labor line-up was painted with "clear radical left hues."
"It's quite obvious that what has united them is their sprint toward the goal of having Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders, to divide Jerusalem and to destroy the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria, and to introduce a centralized economy that has outdated ideas and has nothing to offer on the socio-economic front," Akunis said.
The Likud's official response called the new list a "radical left-wing list that reflects Chairwoman Yachimovich's vote for Hadash [a communist party largely composed of Arab MKs]. This is an extreme left-wing list that includes those who enthusiastically supported the 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip that led to Hamas' takeover and its potential march toward Jerusalem and the outskirts of Petach Tikvah."
Labor responded by saying the Likud "failed to recuperate from its embarrassing primary race and the radical list that emerged from it, and now it wants to attack a victorious, diverse and balanced list."
Yesh Atid, formed by journalist and TV host Yair Lapid, issued a statement Friday saying the Labor "presented a list that befits a left-leaning party. It combines new faces with long-time establishment politicos." The statement also said, "The political landscape is gradually becoming clear as the elections approach — the unadulterated right-wing Likud-Beytenu and the unadulterated left-wing represented by Labor; at the political center you have Yesh Atid.”
Yachimovich voted at the Israel Trade Fair and Convention Center polling station in Tel Aviv. Trying to stay above the fray, Yachimovich refused to state whom she supported or opposed. She said party members should "not succumb despite all the dictates and pressures," referring to the efforts of some interested parties to elect a specific group of people. She said voters could make their voices heard by choosing the preferred candidates among the 83 on the ballot, and emphasized that the field of candidates included veteran politicians and young newcomers of both sexes.
Leading up to the vote was wide speculation on whether social advocate and journalist Merav Michaeli and former TV host and journalist Mickey Rosenthal would make it to the top slots on the list, and how the leaders of the 2011 social justice movement Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli and Professor Yossi Yonah would fare.
"What began with tents will move on to the Knesset and find its voice there," Shaffir said on Thursday, referring to the tents many in her movement pitched in city centers around Israel. Long-time Labor politico MK Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer met Shaffir on Thursday and quipped that "she was born after I had already began running in elections," and said he hoped both would make it to the list.
Herzog arrived at a Givatayim polling station with his mother Orah Herzog, the widow of late president Chaim Herzog, a tradition he has kept in past elections.
"Democracy is being celebrated here," Herzog said as he arrived. "I believe that voters will produce the best possible list and it will have the right combination of people."
Peretz also arrived in Givatayim, marking the first time he voted outside his hometown, Sderot.
"For the first time in my life I am voting in Givatayim," he said, hinting that the city is a bastion of the "Ashkenazi old guard" of the party. Peretz did not shy away from the racial undertones of the race, saying that his change of venue "is more than technical; it means the barriers that have divided everyone — central Israel from the rest of the country, the Ashkenazim from the Mizrahim — are falling down."
Yachimovich endorsed Herzog, the head of the party's youth division Michal Biran, former bureau chief Ofer Kornfeld, former police Maj. Gen. Moshe Mizrahi, MK Avishay Braverman (Labor) and Itzik Shmuli, until recently the National Student Union Chairman. With the exception of Kornfeld, all won safe seats on the list. Peretz managed to win his candidates lucrative spots. These include MK Eitan Cabel, who is placed fourth, Michaeli (No. 5), MK Raleb Majadle (Labor) and the head of the Gilboa Regional Council Danny Atar.
Two voting irregularities were noted during primaries on Thursday. In one, police instructed the party's central election committee to stop voting at one polling station in Beit Shemesh after the head of the local elections committee complained he had been hit by a supporter of one of the candidates.
The head of the central committee, Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yitzhaki Hen, said that the party "has made a conscious decision to take unprecedented security measures at the voting venues, to ensure voters get to vote freely and that the results are not tampered with; we will have zero tolerance for any such behavior and we will take tough action to counter it."
In Kiryat Gat, police detained a party activist after a private investigator hired by the party spotted him taking ballots from the voting venue.
"What happened in Kiryat Gat compromises the voting process, and is punishable by law and could carry one year in prison; the committee plans to monitor even the slightest voting irregularity throughout the elections," Hen said.
The Labor party's messaging team issued a statement Thursday saying, "The high turnout proves that the Labor party is a democratic party that is the most corruption-free and offers the best quality. Upon looking at the Likud primaries and comparing them with the ones held today, there should not be any doubt left among voters as to what party deserves to win in the elections."