Yacimovich 1st woman since Golda to lead Labor party

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Peretz - Yacimovich's former mentor - defeated by nine percent in run-off race for party's chairmanship; Yacimovich's election comes after contentious election rife with personal attacks.

The Labor party elected its first female leader since Golda Meir on Wednesday when MK Shelly Yacimovich bested her former mentor, MK Amir Peretz, in a run-off race for the party's chairmanship.

Yacimovich was expected to give a victory speech at the party's headquarters at Beit Berl Teachers' College in Kfar Saba, in which she would call upon Peretz to remain in the party and lead it together with her. She explained that a number of party members had called to congratulate her, including Peretz, MK Isaac Herzog and Amram Mitzna.

"We've won," she told supporters at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on hearing news of the victory. "I promise that we will work together to bring about change. This is just the beginning of a new start for Israeli society."

Yacimovich won handily by nine percentage points over Peretz. Although not all the votes were tallied, not enough ballots remained for Peretz to make up the differences.

Yacimovich's victory came after a contentious election which saw the candidates launching personal attacks and claims of impropriety against one another.

On Wednesday, election observers representing Peretz refused to remain at four polling stations while votes were counted, but Labor's election committee did not disqualify the votes there.

Late Wednesday morning, a Peretz supporter named Dov Shemesh was punched by a Yacimovich supporter outside her headquarters and had to be hospitalized. Yacimovich was present and video of the incident indicates that she must have seen it, but she said she was unaware of what happened, because she was giving interviews. Yacimovich called Shemesh and condemned the incident, but when she said she didn't see it, he called her a liar.

Peretz said Shemesh "had no connection to violence," and was "truly the salt of the earth." He called on all Labor Party members to prevent further violence. "The day after the election," he said, "we'll need to unify against the Likud."

Yacimovich filed complaints with the Labor elections committee against a Peretz organizer who she said set up a table inside a Haifa polling station, and against Peretz's sister and brother-in-law, Flora and Sammy Shoshan, for allegedly threatening voters at a polling station in Mitzpe Ramon, where Flora Shoshan is mayor.

Earlier, Yacimovich complained that polls at several Kibbutzim and large cities were prevented from opening on time Wednesday morning due to the delayed arrival of Peretz's election observers. She noted that Peretz's observers only came late to polling stations in sectors where she had an advantage.

Neutral observers urged Peretz and Yacimovich to do everything possible to keep the party united following the primary. MK Isaac Herzog, who finished a strong third in the first round of voting last Monday said he was concerned that Labor could split again as it did when Defense Minister Ehud Barak and four allies left the party on January 17.

"The party is not the personal property of anyone," said former Labor candidate Erel Margalit, who like Herzog did not endorse anyone in the run-off race. "We all must unite behind our leader. From today, there are no adversaries in this house."
(h/t Docs Talk)
GIL HOFFMAN AND JPOST.COM STAFF
09/22/2011

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