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Israeli businessman hopes to rescue fabled Labor

Israeli businessman hopes to rescue fabled Labor

One of Israel's most successful venture capitalists launched a different kind of initiative on Monday, an attempt to help rebuild the once-dominant Labor Party.
Labor led Israel to independence in 1948 and governed the country for three decades, producing famed leaders like founding father David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin.
But it has fallen onto hard times. Early this year, its longtime leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, defected with several followers, leaving Labor as a small, opposition movement in parliament.
Erel Margalit, joined by other business leaders, told a news conference in Tel Aviv that his group, "Labor Now," would work to attract tens of thousands of new people to Labor in the coming months. His goal is to strengthen the party ahead of elections, currently scheduled to take place in about two years, and regain its old glory.
Margalit is the founder and managing partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners, an investment firm that he said has taken at 11 companies public. His most famous deal was a $4.8 billion sale of Chromatis to Lucent Technologies in 2000. It was the largest takeover in Israeli history at the time.
He said the party must return to its roots and promote social justice, economic growth and peace with Israel's Arab neighbors. He would not say whether he would seek the party's leadership.
Margalit said he has enlisted other business, student leaders and educators and social activists. "We want to see these kinds of people join existing people in the party," he said.
In an interview, he repeatedly compared politics to the business world.
He said Labor is a "brand that has been battered," called for a "joint venture" with the general public and said the same qualities that have turned Israel into a high-tech powerhouse _ creativity and entrepreneurship _ apply to politics.
"We need to create, revive or reboot the platform," he said.
Despite Margalit's optimism, rejuvenating Labor will be a difficult task.
Under Barak's leadership, the party also lost much of its core support _ since he was widely seen as abandoning its social democratic ideals and focusing almost exclusively on military matters. Many supporters flocked to the centrist Kadima Party, led by popular ex-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or the dovish Meretz Party.
Labor has experienced a slight bump in the polls since Barak's departure, but remains plagued by infighting and has not yet chosen a new leader.
Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said Labor's days of being a major name in politics are over.
"The brand was already in trouble, and then Barak managed to destroy it altogether," he said.
Wolfsfeld said although it's unlikely Israel will see another prime minister from the Labor camp, the party could remain a voice in Israeli politics with a charismatic leader. He said it would likely be reinvented as a niche party fighting to reduce the gaps between rich and poor, while leaving the peace process to "the big boys."
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Josef Federman and Josh Lederman contributed to this report from Jerusalem.