Race to Lead Israel’s Labor Party Tightening

Written by Briana Naiman Guest Contributor on . Posted in Op-Ed

With Israel’s primary for Labor Party leadership heating up, former defense minister Amir Peretz continues to lead polls, but the race for second place is tightening, with the gap narrowing between Knesset Members Avi Gabai and Erel Margalit.


Nine candidates, including current party leader Isaac “Boogie” Herzog, are seeking the leadership spot. If no candidate reaches a 40 percent threshold in the July 4 election, a runoff will be held July 13.

A recent Smith Institute survey of party members found that Peretz still leads the field with 28 percent, but support for Gabai has dropped from 26 percent to 21 percent, while backing for Margalit has edged up from 15 percent to 16 percent.

When asked, however, which candidate they believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu least wants as Labor Party leader, 23 percent say Margalit, while 21 percent say Peretz, and 18 percent Gabai. Herzog and former IDF Chief of Staff Omer Bar-Lev trail far behind at eight percent and five percent, respectively, and all others combine at just three percent. Twenty percent have no opinion.

When it comes to saying who they think best would confront Netanyahu, 29 percent choose Margalit, 23 percent Peretz, and 17 percent Gabai. Asked who can represent Israel internationally, 29 percent say Margalit, 22 percent Herzog and 17 percent Gabai. Peretz rates only eight percent.

An entrepreneur with nearly 30 years of experience leading successful startups, large companies, and social and cultural endeavors, Margalit has been in the Knesset since 2013. A member of the Knesset’s Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, he heads the Cyber Security Taskforce.

The late Yitzhak Rabin’s sister, Rachel Rabin, and his son, Yuval Rabin, are both among those who have endorsed Margalit. In a Jerusalem Post opinion piece, Yuval Rabin called Margalit “a man of action” and “the best candidate to be the next chairman of the Labor Party and Israel’s prime minister.”

Ambassador (ret.) Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul-general in New York, and former peace negotiator Gilead Sher have both endorsed Peretz, who also served as a former Israeli defense minister and deputy prime minister. Gabai, a former member of Netanyahu’s government, was a founder of the centrist Kulanu party; he joined the Labor Party in late December 2016.

On the question of who works for marginalized populations, Labor voters choose only Margalit and Peretz — at 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively — with no other candidate registering more than five percent, and with 13 percent having no opinion.

And as for who can best represent Israel internationally, Margalit again leads all his rivals, this time with 29 percent of Labor Party respondents. Twenty-two percent favor Herzog and 17 percent at nine percent and eight percent, and all others totaling just two percent, with 13 percent saying they don’t know.

The poll was completed June 12.

By Briana Naiman

Guest Contributor