An un­for­get­tably Jewish politi­cian

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By GIL HOFF­MAN

At the height of tra­di­tional Jewish wed­dings, the groom re­cites an un­for­get­table verse from Psalm 137: “If I for­get thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand for­get its cun­ning.”

Labor leader Avi Gab­bay re­cently has been act­ing like an overly ea­ger groom des­per­ately seek­ing the bridal dowry of Cen­ter-Right vot­ers – he has been woo­ing them with his right hand, while try­ing to for­get that he still has a hand on the left.

Gab­bay said re­cently that there would be no need to evac­u­ate set­tle­ments in a peace deal; that he would not sit in a coali­tion with the Joint (Arab) List; that he was not sure if there was a part­ner on the Pales­tinian side; and that “the whole Land of Is­rael is ours, be­cause it was promised to our pa­tri­arch Abra­ham by God.”

When Gab­bay re­called to stu­dents in Beer­sheba on Mon­day that Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu had whis­pered that “the Left for­got what it means to be Jewish” in the ear of the late Sephardi kab­bal­ist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie 20 years ago, he was not just be­ing nos­tal­gic. Gab­bay was stay­ing on mes­sage, fol­low­ing his po­lit­i­cal strat­egy

of shift­ing the Zion­ist Union right­ward.

“Do you know what the Left did in re­sponse to [what Ne­tanyahu said]?” Gab­bay lamented to a ques­tioner at the event. “It for­got what it means to be Jewish. They said: ‘They say it about us but now we are just lib­er­als;’ It is not true. We are Jews, and we must speak about our Jewish val­ues.”

It was not the first time Gab­bay has cited Ne­tanyahu’s in­fa­mous state­ment to Kadourie. He has used it when­ever he has briefed jour­nal­ists about his po­lit­i­cal strat­egy.

But the state­ments of Ne­tanyahu and Gab­bay were dif­fer­ent in three ways.

First of all, Ne­tanyahu whis­pered to an elderly rabbi, hop­ing no one else would hear. Gab­bay spoke loud and clear, hop­ing some­one would no­tice – on a Mon­day when Ne­tanyahu gave a speech at the Knes­set that Gab­bay over­shad­owed, over­com­ing his dis­ad­van­tage of not hav­ing the plat­form of an MK.

The sec­ond dif­fer­ence was the con­text. Ne­tanyahu’s sec­ond sen­tence to Kadourie was “They want to aban­don our se­cu­rity to the hands of the Arabs.”

Ne­tanyahu’s def­i­ni­tion of “what it means to be Jewish” was to main­tain land in Judea and Sa­maria. Gab­bay was re­fer­ring to hav­ing pride in Jewish val­ues.

The third dif­fer­ence is that, 20 years ago, Is­rael was rel­a­tively di­vided be­tween the Right and Left. Ne­tanyahu de­feated in­cum­bent Shi­mon Peres in the 1996 elec­tion by just 29,457 votes. Since then, the per­cent­age of Is­raelis who de­fine them­selves as left-wing has fallen dra­mat­i­cally, per­suad­ing the last three Labor lead­ers to de­fine them­selves as any­thing but Left.

Ne­tanyahu re­ceived ad­vice ahead of that elec­tion from his strate­gist, the late Arthur Finkel­stein, who found that when asked to choose be­tween be­ing Jewish and Is­raeli, a ma­jor­ity of cen­trist, un­de­cided vot­ers picked Jewish. The re­sult of Finkel­stein’s re­search was the “Bibi is good for the Jews” slo­gan in the cru­cial fi­nal days of the vic­to­ri­ous cam­paign.

Ahead of the next elec­tion, there will be plenty of avail­able votes in the Cen­ter of the po­lit­i­cal map. Some will be self-de­fined tra­di­tional Jews who voted Likud in the last elec­tion. Oth­ers will be those who voted for Shas, which may not cross the elec­toral thresh­old.

Gab­bay has been speak­ing their lan­guage in a way his pri­mary ri­val for cen­trist votes, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, can­not be­cause of Lapid’s sec­u­lar­ist im­age. Lapid un­fairly in­her­ited the im­age from his fa­ther, the late Shinui leader Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, and he can­not shake it.

Any­thing Jewish that Lapid does looks less than gen­uine. Gab­bay might not keep kosher any more than Lapid, but be­cause of his right-wing, re­li­gious up­bring­ing and fam­ily, it looks be­liev­able.

In the last few elec­tions, vot­ers to the left of Likud have joined to­gether back­ing which­ever can­di­date they be­lieved had the best chance to beat Ne­tanyahu. If Gab­bay can per­suade them he has a bet­ter chance than Lapid, it could mean an ad­di­tional 10 man­dates.

But, iron­i­cally, to win those vot­ers, Gab­bay must turn to the right, not the left. In fact, he must tem­po­rar­ily for­get that his left hand is there.

If he wins the bride – and the elec­tion – he could find that hand again af­ter the wed­ding. •

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

LABOR LEADER Avi Gab­bay will have to lean right to woo cen­trist vot­ers in the next elec­tion.

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