In Monday’s runoff election, Labor voters will choose between two candidates of Moroccan descent: former Labor leader Amir Peretz and party newcomer Avi Gabbay. Peretz, 65, is a prominent politician who previously led the party in the 2006 election and served as Defense Minister under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Israelis remember Peretz for his role in the Second Lebanon War and the subsequent Vinograd Report, which found Peretz and the political leadership at fault for the war’s failures, but also for his advancement of the Iron Dome system. Gabbay, 50, is a former CEO of Bezeq (Israel’s largest telecommunications company) and one of the founders of Moshe Kahlon’s ‘Kulanu’ party. Gabbay was Minister of Environmental Protection in Netanyahu’s government but decided to leave the party and join Labor when Netanyahu fired Moshe ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon and appointed Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman Defense Minister.
The results could have an immediate impact on the current coalition. The Zionist Union, comprised of Tzipi Livni’s ‘Hatnua’ party and Labor, could fall apart, should Peretz be elected Labor leader, according to a Yossi Verter report in Haaretz. Livni, who is a not a fan of Peretz, could leave the Zionist Union with the four other Hatnua MKs and join the government, replacing Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home party. In such a scenario, Livni would likely be appointed Foreign Minister.
Should Netanyahu replace Bennett with Livni, he will still have a stable coalition of 64 seats. With Bennett and his hawkish party out of the coalition, Netanyahu could push his government towards the center, relieving international pressure, and allowing him to maneuver with more ease on settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Although Trump has not directly pursued a settlement freeze, as his predecessor did, he is eager to promote an agreement in the region.
Netanyahu is likely worried that Gabbay has the ability to take voters from the Likud. Gabbay’s success thus far has largely been attributed to bringing new voters to Labor. He has already recruited over 4,000 new members in his current campaign, most of them coming from the center-right.
The second round of the Labor leadership race is a choice between the old and the new. Both Gabbay and Peretz have the ability to pull votes from other parties, yet they appeal to different crowds. Early polls indicate that Gabbay will bring over more votes from the Likud while Peretz will bring votes from other Left and Centrist parties such Meretz, Yesh Atid, and Kulanu. In the 2006 elections, Peretz outperformed Netanyahu in many Likud strongholds, but at the same time, he lost the election to Ehud Olmert and Kadima by a significant margin.
The last few days have been a race to garner endorsements. Peretz has received backing from much of the Labor establishment, including outgoing leader Isaac ‘Buji’ Herzog, MK Merav Michaeli, and Histadrut (Labor Union) head Avi Nisenkoren, while Gabbay has received support from former PM Ehud Barak, former party leader Shelly Yachimovich, MK Eitan Cabel, and MK Stav Shaffir.
Both candidates would help the party expand its base and give it much needed momentum but each would draw votes from a different demographic. Amir Peretz is a leader who has failed the party in the past, yet he represents a working-class population from the Israeli periphery that historically has felt neglected by Labor. On the other hand, Avi Gabbay is a young, energetic ‘outsider’ whose appeal to center-right voters has led many to believe he represents a stronger alternative to Netanyahu. The question is which of these voting blocs could help Labor most in the next election.