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Former Meretz lawmaker wins Labor Party leadership primary

Yair Golan, a former Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff, was elected with over 95% of the votes.

Labor Party leader Yair Golan speaks after the primary results are announced, in Tel Aviv, May 28, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Labor Party leader Yair Golan speaks after the primary results are announced, in Tel Aviv, May 28, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Members of Israel’s opposition Labor Party elected their new leader on Tuesday, in a round of primaries prompted by the resignation of party chief Merav Michaeli in December of last year.

Yair Golan, an ex-Meretz Party lawmaker and former Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff, was elected with over 95% of the votes.

Golan’s victory had been expected as the hard-left politician had led the polls over the other candidates—Avi Shaked, Azi Nagar and Itai Leshem.

Some 31,353 registered Labor Party members voted in the primary, amounting to a 60.6% turnout, according to local media reports.

Labor MK Naama Lazimi, who is facing criminal charges over her role in illegal anti-government protests, praised Golan: “I congratulate my friend Yair Golan on a resounding victory for the party leadership. His victory is the first step in building a large and united democratic camp that will bring tremendous news to the citizens of Israel and the state.”

Fellow Labor lawmaker Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi who also supported Golan’s candidacy, added: “Members of the Labor Party voted unanimously today for Yair Golan, for the unification of forces in the Zionist left, and for a path of hope. This is the first step in a long journey to repair and restore the State of Israel and Israeli society.”

As part of his campaign, Golan vowed to unify all left-wing parties into a single voting bloc. Recent polls indicate that if the Jewish state were to hold an election, the Labor Party and the far-left Meretz Party would win five and four mandates, respectively, in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

There was some controversy about the primary’s results. Just hours before the vote, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal filed by Golan and the party, ruling that Tuesday’s results would be final and absolute.

The Tel Aviv District Court had previously ruled that the primary results would be “conditional” and require the party conference’s approval.

“Congratulations to Maj. Gen. (res.) Yair Golan on winning the race for chairman of the Labor Party. Israel needs patriotic public representatives who love the country like Golan,” tweeted Opposition leader and Yesh Atid Party chief Yair Lapid. “We have a lot of work ahead for the sake of the state. I wish success to Golan and the Labor Party.”

Shortly before Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel, Golan faced accusations of antisemitism after he attacked Israel’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish, population, calling them a “parasitic population.”

In June 2023, the Israel Police announced it had launched an investigation into Golan’s calls for civil unrest to oppose Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s now-shelved judicial reform initiative.

Golan had drawn criticism from Netanyahu’s ruling coalition after urging a “large-scale and nonviolent uprising” against the government.

A year earlier, while serving as a deputy economy minister in the Bennett-Lapid government on behalf of the Meretz Party, Golan was forced to issue a formal but half-hearted apology after he described the Jewish residents of the Homesh outpost in Samaria as “subhuman.”

On Dec. 7, Michaeli announced she would not lead Labor in the next election and quit politics, 10 years after first being elected to Knesset.

“The State of Israel is currently in a major crisis. … Israel needs to have a new beginning, a restart. And for that to happen, elections must be held, and I am convinced that Israel will go to elections in 2024,” she told reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

The left-wing party, which historically dominated Israeli politics, received only 175,992 votes in the last general election, barely passing the 3.25% electoral threshold (four Knesset mandates).

Last year, Michaeli slammed the global political left for being “complicit” in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1,200 people in southern Israel, saying “something very bad is happening on the left.”

“It became very clear in this attack that people who consider themselves to be democratic, progressive, are supporting a totalitarian terror regime that oppresses women [and] the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.

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