Amir Peretz is the head of Israel’s Labor Party. He is the foremost rival to the incumbent party in the upcoming elections, having spent much of his political life fighting for worker rights and social democracy.
Peretz was born Armand Peretz in Morocco in 1952 to a prominent Jewish family. In 1956, his family emigrated to Israel, where they were settled in a development town. Peretz served in the military and was injured in 1973 in the Yom Kippur War. In 1983, he was elected mayor of the town of Sderot, ending the town’s long rule by Likud. He is one of handful of Sephardic Jews to hold leadership positions in Israel.
Peretz has been a member of the Knesset since 1988 and is strongly committed to social welfare issues in Israel. He has declared that if elected prime minister, he will eradicate child poverty within two years.
The Labor Party dominated Israeli politics from 1948 until 1977, when the right-wing Likud Party took over. Peretz and other Labor Party parliamentarians take a liberal stance toward Palestine, believing that peace with Palestine would palliate Israel’s internal social ills, such as rising social inequality. Peretz believes funds diverted toward West Bank settlements have sapped strength from social programs.
Peretz is a member of Peace Now, the Israeli pacifist organization that campaigns for a Palestinian state and supported Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.
He remains a popular figure with Israel’s working class and narrowly defeated longtime Labor leader Shimon Peres in the November 2005 election. If Peretz wins in March, he will be the first non-Ashkenazi prime minister in Israel’s history.