Labor chief Peretz says he won’t run for Knesset in March elections

Labor party chief Amir Peretz announced Wednesday he won’t run in the upcoming elections, as the dovish party wallows in the polls.

“I will continue to work for the Israeli public out of a love for humanity and a great faith in the need to bring together all parts of the nation, at a time when the internal split threatens to topple the foundations on which Israeli society was built,” Peretz said in a statement.

“My whole life I’ve acted out of a sense of mission and personal example and that is how I intend to continue to conduct myself,” he added.

Peretz also said retired judge Yaacov Shimoni would head the party’s election committee, “to ensure a democratic, fair, transparent and completely independent process,” according to the statement.

Wednesday’s announcement came after Peretz, the longest-serving current Knesset member, said last month he would step down as Labor leader, as the Knesset dissolved and new elections were called for the fourth time in two years.

Like the previous announcement, Peretz stopped short of declaring a full retirement from politics. Peretz is seeking to be nominated president after Reuven Rivlin steps down in the summer.

The heads of the Gesher, Labor and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Under Peretz, Labor received just three seats as part of its alliance with the Gesher and Meretz parties in the March 2020 election, the worst-ever showing for the party that ruled Israel for its first 30 years.

Peretz also broke his pledge not to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after shaving his signature mustache so Israelis could “read his lips” when he said he wouldn’t team up with the premier.

Labor MK Merav Michaeli cheered Peretz’s decision not to seek reelection to the Knesset.

“His retirement today is very important for the effort to save the Labor party and unite its ranks,” she tweeted.

Michaeli also called on Peretz to yank his appeal against a recent court decision requiring the party to hold primaries.

There was no immediate response from Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, Labor’s No. 2.

Ahead of Peretz’s announcement, a Labor source put the blame for the party’s woes at Peretz’s feet.

“[Peretz] is driving away votes,” the source told the Haaretz daily. “It’s possible to bring renewed energy to the party with a new chairman and attractive list. As long as Peretz was there, this just wouldn’t happen.”

Labor party head MK Amir Peretz (right) and party member MK Merav Michaeli at a press conference with party members at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, following the announcement of the Trump peace plan, on January 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor, a dominant force in the country’s politics until several years ago, has lost virtually all of its support and no recent opinion poll has predicted it will enter the next Knesset.

In April, following the last election, the party’s central committee voted in favor of joining the unity government, upending repeated campaign promises to never serve under a prime minister facing a criminal indictment. Michaeli rejected sitting in the coalition under Netanyahu, making her a de facto opposition member within her own party, and within the coalition.

Netanyahu and Blue and While leader Benny Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently gearing up for another round of elections on March 23.

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