Labor leadership hopefuls accuse each other of endangering party

Candidates for the leadership of the beleaguered Labor Party traded barbs on Saturday as they weighed allying with other center-left factions ahead of national elections in September.

MK Itzik Shmuli, considered one of the frontrunners for the post, accused fellow leadership contender Amir Peretz of endangering Labor by placing preconditions on any potential tie-up.

“The preconditions Amir Peretz is placing for a joint run are likely to force Labor into an independent [and] dangerous run that may lead to its erasure,” Shmuli said at a cultural event in Petah Tikva.

“We must not repeat the mistakes of the past because of personal considerations,” he added.

Shmuli said the priorities of the next Labor head should be “rebuilding the party” and working to join with other parties in order to expand the center-left bloc.

“The strategy of pulling votes from the right is a dangerous one. Our camp has become too accustomed to struggling and not winning,” he said.

Meanwhile, MK Stav Shaffir, another candidate for Labor leader, accused Shmuli of being willing to “sell out” the party for an electoral alliance with Ehud Barak, a former Labor prime minister who announced his return to politics this week.

“Shmuli is prepared to sell out the party for the fourth spot in another party,” she said at a cultural event in Hadera.

“Tie-ups aren’t made on Twitter but through building connections and trust as I’m working [to do], without making headlines from it,” she added.

Shaffir said if chosen as Labor leader she would work to team up with left-wing Meretz, Barak’s still unnamed party and Blue and White.

But she also appeared to suggest she may leave Labor if she doesn’t win the leadership primary, a remark Shmuli went after on Twitter.

“Stav, together we can save the party. In the past, there were candidates who lost and left. This isn’t the way. The Labor Party is greater than one candidate or another. Join me and we’ll build the party,” Shmuli wrote.

Shaffir swiftly hit back at Shmuli, accusing him of acting “civil on Twitter” but making “threatening messages” behind her back.

“Don’t worry I’m not going anywhere. On Tuesday, I will lead our party to a better place and I’d be happy if you’re part – but as a true partner. No old politics,” she tweeted.

Both Shaffir, 34, and Shmuli, 39, rose to national prominence as leaders of the cost of living protests in 2011 before entering the Knesset as Labor lawmakers two years later.

Peretz, 67, first entered the Knesset in 1988 and later headed Labor Party from 2005 to 2007, when he was ousted as its leader by Barak following the former prime minister’s first return to politics after resigning in 2001.

Peretz later quit the party for Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, before returning to Labor in 2015 and losing the leadership race to Avi Gabbay in 2017.

The position of party chief was opened following Gabbay’s announcement that he would step down after leading Labor to its worst ever electoral showing and entertaining an offer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join his prospective coalition, a move met with heavy internal criticism.

The leadership vote will be held on July 2.

Separately, Blue and White MK Ram Ben Barak brushed off concerns that Ehud Barak’s political return would hurt his party at the polls.

“I don’t think it will hurt us and if it does, it will only be a light blow,” he said at the event in Hadera.

“[Barak] is not sweeping up masses” of votes, Ben Barak added.

Like Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and senior members Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, Barak is a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

According to Israeli television reports Friday, Barak is pushing for an alliance of center-left factions that would include his party, Labor, Meretz and Blue and White.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, speaks with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz during a visit to the IDF Southern Command on Thursday (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

Blue and White, however, is reportedly wary of the proposal, fearing it could hurt it ability to pick up right-wing voters.

Channel 12 news reported Wednesday that Blue and White had looked into possibly teaming up with Barak before April’s elections, but that Gantz eventually cut off talks after the party determined that allying with the former Labor Party chief would not help it at the polls.

Barak said Wednesday that Blue and White lacked the “passion” necessary to convince voters and claimed its leaders weren’t willing to fight hard enough to defeat Netanyahu. He said that in the coming two or three weeks, his party would introduce a more detailed agenda and list of candidates.

Just hours after Barak announced his political comeback, a television poll said his new party would win six seats if national elections were held today.

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