Political Rivals Line Up Against Netanyahu Ahead of September Elections

Israel’s domestic political scene is heating up, following the reappearance of additional rivals for the national leadership. The nation’s constituents will return to the polls for another round of snap parliamentary elections on September 17, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition in the wake of an April 9 ballot in which no single party won a majority vote.

Longtime Knesset Member Amir Peretz has been reelected chairman of the Labor Party for the second time, and immediately declared his intention to unite the once-formidable faction with former Israeli premier and ex-Labor leader Ehud Barak. Barak announced his own return to the political arena in May, as head of a yet-to-be-named party.

In an effort to make good on his campaign promise to unseat Netanyahu from the premiership, Peretz declared his hope of expanding Labor’s political alliances to include “new people who will join us in order to replace the government.” He said he seeks to unify with the left-wing Meretz party; and  attract 4 seats away from the centrist Blue and White, 3 from both the moderate right, currently-Likud-aligned Kulanu and Gesher factions, and 2 from Arab and Druze voters.

This was Peretz’ fifth election campaign for the leadership of Labor. His first term as party head began in 2005, when he scored an unexpected victory against the late Shimon Peres. He remained at the helm until being defeated by Barak in 2007. He later lost his bids for leadership against Shelly Yachimovich in 2011 and Avi Gabbay in 2017, the latter of whom resigned after a poor showing of just 6 mandates in the April 2019 elections.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the new Blue and White party garnered 35 seats apiece.

Ehud Barak is a former armed forces chief and Israel’s most decorated soldier, who was prime minister from 1999 to 2001, a period in which he held unsuccessful peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria. He then served as defense minister from 2007, first in former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government and then in Netanyahu’s administration. After leaving politics for the business world in 2013, Barak has been involved in ventures in cyber security, emergency rescue technology and medical marijuana. He has been especially vocal on social media in attacking Netanyahu, whom he once commanded in an elite commando unit.

Political commentators say Barak could fragment the center-left, and potentially harm the chances of Netanyahu’s strongest challenger, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, from unseating the premier in the upcoming September poll.