Histadrut Boss Wins Primary in Nasty Race for Re-election

The secretary-general of the Histadrut Trades Union Federation has been elected in a Labor Party primary to run as the party’s candidate for a second term.

In Tuesday’s nationwide elections, in which the 130,587 Labor Party members who were also members of the confederation were eligible to vote, incumbent Chaim Haberfeld defeated Labor Knesset member Amir Peretz by an almost two-to-one margin. Former Knesset member Jacques Amir placed third.

Haberfeld will now face that Likud’s candidate for secretary-general, Knesset member Yaakov Shamai, in elections in May.

Histadrut, the umbrella organization of all labor unions in Israel, is not only a trade-union federation, but is also an important voluntary body that oversees issues of public health, pensions and professional training.

It also operates sports clubs, community centers, cultural groups, adult education classes and libraries, as well as senior citizen and day care centers.

Peretz was vigorously supported by a group of rising young figures in the Labor Party, among them Health Minister Haim Ramon and Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin.

But Haberfeld enjoyed the strong support of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and of trade union bosses around the country.

More than 60 percent of those eligible to vote did so after a particularly nasty campaign in which Peretz and Haberfeld traded insults and recriminations.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin remained neutral during the campaign, with each side claiming to have his tacit support.

Peretz’s challenge was widely seen as an attempt by the party’s Young Turks to wrest power from the veteran Histadrut establishment, which is leading opposition to Ramon’s attempt to push through a national health insurance law.

The Ramon group advocated a slimmed-down Histadrut that would focus most of its effort and energies on classical trade union activities.

Ramon has threatened to resign as health minister unless his national health insurance bill becomes law by the end of this month.

In the aftermath of what all agreed was a bruising campaign, party leaders were seeking to heal the scars of the campaign.

But their efforts have been complicated by the publication of opinion polls showing that the Likud’s popular Knesset member Meir Sheetrit, a former treasurer of the Jewish Agency, would beat Haberfeld – or indeed Peretz – if he were to run for secretary-general.

Ever since its establishment in the late 1920s, the Histadrut has been dominated and led by the Labor Party, with right-wing parties in opposition and for many years even boycotting the Histadrut and its political, economic and social agenda.

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