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Labor Selects New, Younger Faces for Knesset List in November Vote

The slate of Knesset candidates the Labor Party will present to Israeli voters in November will have many new names, fresh younger faces and a decided tilt toward the dovish left–although such an appraisal is strongly denied by party secretary-general Uri Baram.

Labor last Thursday completed the process of selecting the 61 men and women who will seek to represent it in Parliament. But Labor doesn’t expect to win 61 seats. No political party in Israel has ever gained an absolute majority in the 120 member Knesset.

If Labor does as well as it did in 1984, it can expect to elect 44 of its people. Now the inevitable jostling and jockeying for “safe” positions on the list has begun and is expected to be hard-fought.

The crucial ranking of the candidates on the list is set for June 16. The first seven slots are reserved for the party leaders and for Minister-Without-Portfolio Ezer Weizman’s former Yahad faction. There will be many disappointments.

But the mood in the party was buoyant after the 1,269-member Central Committee voted to select the largest single bloc of candidates on the list.

Of the 29 chosen, 16 have not previously served in the Knesset. Those selected, however, appeared to ensure that Labor’s slate will include a substantial number of younger politicians while preserving the status of such respected veterans as Abba Eban.

PLEASED WITH THE MIX

“This is a festive day for me,” said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who as party chairman will head the list. He and Labor’s No. 2 man, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, pronounced themselves well pleased with the mix and confident that, in Rabin’s words, “With this list we can win the election.”

It is the first list selected by what has been called here the new democratic process. In addition to the 29 candidates selected by the Central Committee, 23 were chosen during April and May by the various party branches in the big cities, the kibbutz movement, the moshav movement and other components.

The balance is composed of the party leaders: Peres, Rabin, Education Minister Yitzhak Navon, Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel, Baram, Histadrut Secretary-General Yisrael Kessar and the spots pledged in advance to Weizman and his people. All are certain of election.

In the old days, Labor drew up its Knesset list in the proverbial smoke-filled room, where the party bosses closeted themselves to wheel and deal and put together what they considered a list balanced by geography, ideology and special interests.

Baram thinks the new method has “revolutionized” the party. He strongly denied a leftward list, even though the dovish Ora Namir polled the largest number of votes in the Central Committee, followed by veteran Arieh Eliav, who seceded from the Labor Party for 10 years over policy differences and supports the idea of a Palestinian state.

Baram pointed out that newcomers on the list include dedicated hawks such as Mayor Micha Goldman of Kfar Tavor, a close confidant of Rabin.

The voting was not along dove-hawk lines and not by prior deals, Baram said. The Central Committee members simply searched for a balanced and attractive blend, he said.

A DOVISH SWING

Despite Baram’s denials, political pundits saw in last Thursday’s vote by the huge Central Committee a definite swing to dovish territory.

It was apparent, they say, in the election of first-time candidates like Eli Dayan, the moderate mayor of Ashkelon, and Avram Burg, a former Peace Now activist and son of retired National Religious Party leader Yosef Burg.

By the same token, three outspoken hawkish Knesset members failed to make the list of 29. They are Yitzhak Peretz, Jacques Amir and Aharon Nahmias. None of them had been particularly popular or successful in the house. But their collective political demise is bound to be a blow to Labor’s more hawkish wing.

And despite Baram’s assertion that no deals were cut, the pundits maintained that to a large degree they had been. The Rabin camp reportedly reached an agreement with Yossi Beilin’s Mashav group, with the result that Beilin, who is political director general of the Foreign Ministry, was elected easily, as were four Rabin supporters.

While the voting by the Central Committee was by secret ballot, the members were required to select at least five women, one Arab and one Druze.

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