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Primary considerations

More than money. More than Histadrut support. More than longtime party membership.

Labor’s primaries are behind us, almost 35,000 Labor members have spoken and the party has put together a very respectable list of candidates, one that will put a formidable challenge to Likud-Beiteinu and the other parties out there. The list is a combination of old-timers who have plenty of experience and quite a few newcomers, some of them young and attractive to the many younger people who were part of the public protest movement in the summer. As one of the 38 candidates who didn’t make it into the top 45, I’ll share with you a few insights:

1. A candidate who has no media exposure and no support from either the Histadrut Labor Federation, the chairperson or one of the top three candidates in the party is limited by a glass ceiling of between 1,500-2,500 votes.  Nobody in this category got more votes no matter how hard he or she campaigned or how many events he or she organized or attended. The lowest number of votes that got a candidate (Ms. Yona Prital) into a reasonable slot (No. 25, guaranteed representation for the Kibbutzim and Moshavim) was 3150 votes. For comparison, 21,837 votes got you into first place, 14,478 into tenth and 7,636 into 19th place. Remember that voters were required to mark between 8 and 12 candidates (out of 83) on the ballot sheet. For the full list follow this link (Hebrew).

2. Support by the Histadrut Labor Federation will clock in at about 2,500 to 3,000 votes, if you can get it, and a few candidates did get that extra push, or part of it. Looking at the list of candidates it appears that it did make a difference to some and it appears that mainly associates of Amir Peretz (who just bolted the party) enjoyed the benefits of his last minute patch-up meeting with the head of the Histadrut, Ofer Eini. Nevertheless, unlike 20 years ago, the Histadrut Labor Federation has lost its clout in the party and is not any more in a position to hoist a candidate into a safe slot on the Labor ticket all by itself.

3, Support from either the chairperson or one of the top three candidates can get a candidate between 4,000 and 7,000 votes. This kind of support is typically not given to more than three candidates (for each of the top three). So, if you have the support of one of them and you are reasonably attractive on your own, you do have a pretty good chance to get into a safe slot. Ofer Kornfeld, Shelly’s chief of staff got into 23rd place that way and Michal Biran, also a close associate of Labor’s chairperson, came in 14th (into a reserved spot for women).

4. Not surprisingly, the one single item which beats everything else in garnering support is media coverage and public visibility of a candidate. All the candidates with a high public profile made it into safe places, and Meirav Michaeli beat them all taking 5th place, reserved for women. A high media profile easily beats other considerations which do weigh in considerably with veteran party members, like length of membership in the Labor Party or adherence to Labor’s principles.

5. Oh, before I forget, one other thing: Money. Not surprisingly, money does make a difference but it can’t buy a slot on the ticket all by itself. No candidate ever got into a safe slot just by spending a lot of money and there have been well to do candidates who failed repeatedly despite not being limited by means other than the law. In this campaign, the legal spending cap was 400,000 NIS. Erel Margalit, head of Jerusalem Venture Partners and a popular candidate, ran an intensive, spirited and well financed campaign for head of Labor in 2011 (running for head of party, spending caps are higher). He built himself a strong basis of support which served him well in this year’s primaries and he made it into 11th place. Incidentally, the expenses of all candidates are in the public domain and are published on the website of the State Ombudsman (Hebrew).

While the primary system does provide a semblance of democracy for the selection of candidates, it gives a lopsided advantage to individuals with a high media profile. It remains to be seen if candidates who were largely selected based on their popularity with the media and may only have a limited record of real life accomplishment will be able to deliver the goods once they serve in the Knesset. Labor’s present chairperson, who was elected to Labor’s Knesset list in 2006 exactly on that basis, has certainly set a formidable example.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is a member of the Council for Peace and Security and was a candidate in Labor’s 2012 primary election for the Knesset list