In a stunning upset, Amir Peretz– head of the Israeli trade union federation the Histadrut– has defeated Shimon Peres in a primary to become the new leader of the Labor party.
Peretz quickly announced that he would pull Labor out of the coalition government led by Ariel Sharon and move toward new elections.
The Moroccan-born Peretz becomes the first leader of a major party from Israel’s large population of Mizrachi Jews– those of Middle Eastern and North African origin.
Speaking near the grave of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Mount Hertzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Peretz stressed that reaching a peace accord with the Palestinians is at the top of his political priority list.
“We will not rest until we reach a permanent agreement (with the Palestinians) that would secure a safe future for our children and that would provide us with renewed hope to live in a region where people lead a life of cooperation and not, God forbid, where blood is shed from time to time,” Peretz said.
Peretz briefly broke away from Labor several years ago to form a party called Am Echad, which put economic justice and workers’ rights at the top of its agenda. He will certainly put a higher priority on those issues than previous Labor party leaders.
Eric Lee of Labourstart had a revealing interview with him a few months ago.
It will be intriguing to see the effect of Peretz’s victory on the moribund Israeli Left.
As always, interesting times in Israel.
Update: Does the French word “pacifiste” mean something different from the English word “pacifist”? If not, the French-language service of Radio Canada needs to fire a headline writer.
Peretz is not a pacifist, as he made clear in an interview last May:
As a Sderot resident, I have seen my share of Kassam rockets and my family throughout the city has experienced them. Yet I support disengagement. I don’t have an illusion that there won’t be Kassams after disengagement. But leaving settlements gives us the legitimacy to use all force necessary to act militarily after disengagement.
Further update: Notwithstanding suggestions of a Peres-Sharon alignment in the next election, Peres has announced that he will support Peretz.