Blue and White defector Ram Shefa joins Labor, will run in primaries

Former Blue and White MK Ram Shefa has joined the Labor party and will run in its primaries on February 1.

“Happy and excited to run for the Labor list and join a political home that feels like home,” tweeted Shefa, who last month was part of an exodus of nine lawmakers from Benny Gantz’s Blue and White coalition party ahead of the general elections.

Shefa is expected to resign as head of the Knesset’s Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, following his announcement.

The Labor primaries will be held just three days before the final deadline to register parties for the March 23 vote. The beleaguered center-left party is widely expected to merge with other parties ahead of the February 4 deadline.

Shefa’s announcement came after MK Merav Michaeli on Sunday won the Labor leadership primary, taking over the party as it faces possible extinction in the elections.

Labor MK Merav Michaeli votes in the party primaries, January 24, 2020 (Courtesy)

Michaeli, who was the only current Labor lawmaker in the race, finished first with 77 percent of the 9,651 votes cast, out of over 37,000 registered party members.

The once-storied Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil in the party, and the emergence of new political players who have eroded its base. Since joining the coalition after the previous election, the party lost virtually all of its support and no recent opinion poll has predicted it would enter the next Knesset.

The Labor leadership field was cleared for Michaeli after Amir Peretz announced earlier this month that he would step aside as party chief and not run in the upcoming elections. The party’s No. 2, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, later declared he would not be running in the primary and that he had decided to leave Labor altogether.

After Peretz took Labor into the Netanyahu-led unity government, despite having vowed to never serve under a prime minister facing a criminal indictment, Michaeli rejected sitting in the coalition, making her a de facto opposition member within her own party, and within the coalition.

Michaeli has said she is open to joining with another party before the election in order to increase Labor’s chances of passing the electoral threshold, but only if such a party is an “ideological ally.” The Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday morning that if she wins, she is likely to sign an agreement to run with Ron Huldai’s The Israelis.

As the results of the leadership race were announced, Channel 13 news published a poll predicting a Michaeli-led Labor would squeak past the electoral threshold into the Knesset if it ran alone.

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