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Peace and Conflict

Israeli Labour elects new leader | Update 29 May 2024

Israeli Labour elects new leader via BICom

What’s happened: The Israeli Labour Party yesterday elected Yair Golan its new leader.

  • The former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, Commander of the Home Front Command, and Commander of the Northern Command won the ballot in a landslide, securing 95 percent of the vote.
  • In a victory speech, Golan pledged to begin working immediately to unite the left, saying “we have to unite everyone, Labour, Meretz, the protest organisations, those disappointed by other parties.”
  • “We built a glorious country, but today corrupt elements threaten it. We need to build a ruling party and it cannot be a niche party or a small party.”
  • "This evening we stand before the citizens of the country to say clearly and decisively – Israel must change course immediately… We will invest all our efforts in toppling the government and advancing elections. There is no task more important for saving the country and society."
  • Current Labour Party MK Naama Lazimi said, “I congratulate my friend, Yair Golan, for his stunning victory. His victory is a first step in building the large and united democratic camp that will be tremendous news for the citizens of Israel and the country. I was glad to take part in Yair’s campaign from the first moment and up until victory. Now, our job is to continue to build together a governmental and ethical alternative that presents a new political-security, socio-economic and democratic-civic agenda for the State of Israel, and for it to take a leading role in the future leadership.”
  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who served in the previous government with Golan, offered him his congratulations, saying “Israel needs patriotic public representatives, lovers of the country like Golan. We have a lot of work to do for the country. I wish success to Golan and the Labour party.”

Context: Golan succeeds Merav Michaeli as Labour leader. Both served in the previous government when Golan was a member of Meretz, Golan as Deputy Economy Minister.

  • Having lost his Knesset seat in the 2022 elections, Golan was active in the protest movement against the current government’s attempted judicial reforms, before rising to prominent public attention as one of the many Israeli heroes on October 7th.
  • Hearing news of the attack, he rushed to the Home Front Command southern headquarters and volunteered to re-enlist. In his own vehicle he then travelled to the area of the Nova massacre and rescued many survivors.
  • Prior to entering politics Golan enjoyed an illustrious military career, and was a candidate to serve as IDF Chief of Staff in 2018. Controversial remarks made during a 2016 Holocaust Memorial Day speech seemingly counted against him.
  • In politics, before joining Meretz Golan first joined with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the short-lived Israel Democratic Party.
  • The Labour Party’s voter membership is 51,747-strong, with 20,000 new members having joined this year. The turnout in the leadership ballot was 60.5 percent.
  • Along with the Likud, Labour remains Israel’s only fully internally democratic political party. Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, though committed to liberal democratic principles, has been led by Lapid unchallenged since its inception in 2012. Lapid has pledged to introduce leadership primaries.
  • Golan’s task will now be to first unite and then reinvigorate the Zionist left, which has plunged to its lowest political ebb in recent years. Golan’s Meretz failed to cross the threshold in 2022, while Michaeli’s Labour secured only four seats.
  • He will pursue a merger with Meretz in a bid to unite the left, while also looking to harness the energy of both the anti-judicial reform protest movement and an ever-growing protest movement against the government’s policy regarding hostage negotiations.
  • Golan himself said in April that "The disaster government is abandoning citizens to their death in captivity. Netanyahu is not interested in a deal, he is only interested in his political survival. We need to shake the country and disrupt the order until the government realizes that it has no choice but to reach a deal."
  • Meretz officials have in recent weeks indicated a willingness to consider uniting with Labour under Golan.
  • Michaeli came under significant criticism for her refusal to join forces with Meretz, a party to the left of Labour, for the 2022 elections. The decision was widely blamed for Meretz’s failure to cross the electoral threshold, which in turn aided the Netanyahu government in forming a workable Knesset majority.
  • In most opinion polls conducted since October 7th, Meretz has been predicted to cross the electoral threshold but Labour under Michaeli has not.

Looking ahead: Elsewhere on the domestic political front, there is speculation that Lapid is set to meet today with Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman and New Hope Chairman Gideon Saar in an effort to force Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government from power.

  • Reports suggest there is a desire to set up an opposition ‘war room’ whose task will be to unite the opposition in pushing for a change of government.
  • Saar’s New Hope faction joined the government in the wake of October 7th and the launching of the war in Gaza. He withdrew in late March, seemingly as a result of his not being appointed to the War Cabinet.

via BICom