- Official Name: Labor Party – HaAvudah
- Leader – Shelly Yacimovich
- MKs in current Knesset – 8 (after Ehud Barak and four other members of Atzmaut left)
- Latest Haaretz poll – 16
For nearly fifty years, Labor, or Mapai as it was previously known, or “the party that built the country” was either the natural party of government or the main opposition. But a series of inept and short-lived leaders, the failure of the Oslo Accords and the rise of Kadima reduced it to a bare shadow of its one illustrious past.
Entire cadres left in 2005 to join Ariel Sharon in Kadima, and former leader Ehud Barak reduced Labor even further when he broke away with four other MKs in 2011. Barak’s departure opened the door for ambitious ex-journalist Shelly Yacimovich, who had joined the party only five years before. She enlisted thousands of young, enthusiastic new members and rode the wave of last summer’s social protests to clinch the leadership primaries in September 2011.
Since her election, Yacimovich has focused mainly on economic and social issues, eschewing security and diplomacy. She went as far as to give an interview to the right-wing pro-settlement website Arutz Sheva, where she said that calling Labor a left-wing party was a “historical travesty.” Yacimovich’s strategy is to attract center-right Likud voters with her social-democratic policies but so far the polls have shown she has mainly succeeded in drawing votes from Kadima. Labor is ascending and will most likely be the second-largest party in the next Knesset — but still not strong enough to pose a threat to Likud’s hegemony.
Yacimovich’s leadership has also not gone uncontested. Her attempts to change the face of the party’s list has mobilized the old guard, including former leader Amir Peretz, who was Yacimovich’s patron earlier in her political career, and Histadrut (labor federation) Secretary General Ofer Eini, another former Yacimovich supporter. Peretz decided at the last moment to leave Labor and join Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah in protest over Yacimovich’s focus on social and economic policies at the expense of the peace process.
Yacimovich would like to join Netanyahu’s coalition to gain ministerial experience and influence the next government, but some of her party colleagues in the next Knesset will try to stop her.