Avi Gab­bay Elected Chair­man of the La­bor Party

The Jewish Voice - - ISRAEL - By: Andrew Fried­man

La­bor Party new­comer Avi Gab­bay was elected party chair­man Mon­day, beat­ing party vet­eran Amir Peretz 16,080 to 14,734. Out­go­ing party chair­man Yitzhak Her­zog, who ran for re-elec­tion be­fore sup­port­ing Amir Peretz in the run-off, spoke to Gab­bay fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment, con­grat­u­lat­ing his suc­ces­sor and pledg­ing to help unify the party in or­der to de­feat Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu at the next gen­eral elec­tion, sched­uled to be held by No­vem­ber, 2019.

“I just spoke to Avi Gab­bay and con­grat­u­lated him on his im­pres­sive pri­mary vic­tory for the chair­man­ship of the La­bor Party. I told him I would stand by him to help in any way I can to strengthen the party and to re­place the cur­rent gov­ern­ment. I wish him good luck,” Her­zog said.

“La­bor mem­bers have said their word and I re­spect their choice,” Peretz said in a Face­book post fol­low­ing his de­feat. “My col­leagues and I will stand firmly by Avi Gab­bay’s side and help him bring La­bor back into power. That is the most im­por­tant mis­sion fac­ing us and fac­ing Is­raeli so­ci­ety,” Peretz said.

The elec­tion brought to a close a fraught race be­tween two can­di­dates rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent vi­sions for the party as well as a clear dis­dain for one-an­other. Peretz, a ca­reer la­bor leader who served as party chair­man a decade ago, had cam­paigned on an ag­gres­sive left-wing eco­nomic and so­cial plat­form and was ex­pected to break apart the party’s Zion­ist Union al­liance with Tzipi Livni’s Hat­nua Party.

But his first stint as party chair­man was un­suc­cess­ful – he was crit­i­cized for choos­ing to serve as de­fense min­is­ter un­der Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert, in­stead of choos­ing a “so­cial” min­istry such as hous­ing or econ­omy, and was ul­ti­mately forced to re­sign as de­fense min­is­ter fol­low­ing the Sec­ond Le­banon War in the sum­mer of 2006.

In con­trast, Gab­bay’s elec­tion ap­pear’s to sig­nal a new era for the party, although it is un­clear what that fu­ture will hold. A for­mer head of the Bezeq telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­glom­er­ate, Gab­bay helped found the Ku­lanu Party with for­mer Likud MK Moshe Kahlon and later served as min­is­ter of the en­vi­ron­ment un­der Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu un­til re­sign­ing in May, 2016 over the ap­point­ment of Avig­dor Liber­man as de­fense min­is­ter.

In prac­ti­cal terms, that likely means that Gab­bay will be open to lead­ing La­bor into a coali­tion ar­range­ment with Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu, either in the fore­see­able fu­ture or fol­low­ing the next gen­eral elec­tion.

Peretz Chair­woman Za­hava Galon also con­grat­u­lated Gab­bay, calling him “im­pres­sive” and of­fer­ing to col­lab­o­rate with him to re­place the cur­rent Likud gov­ern­ment.

“The Is­raeli pub­lic de­serves a ‘bit­ing, crit­i­cal’ op­po­si­tion, the way an op­po­si­tion should be,” Galon said in a state­ment. “Gab­bay doesn’t seem to be a per­son who is afraid of chal­lenges.”

About 200 party ac­tivists braved a hu­mid Tel Aviv evening to at­tend the party’s elec­tion night re­cep­tion, held at a small wed­ding hall at the Tel Aviv Ex­hi­bi­tion Grounds. Within sec­onds of the re­sult, how­ever, the hall emp­tied of Peretz sup­port­ers leav­ing only a ded­i­cated core of Gab­bay loy­al­ists to wait for the win­ner to de­liver his vic­tory speech. By 10 pm, there were more jour­nal­ists and film crews than party ac­tivists, although more than 200 had re­turned by time the win­ner emerged at 10:45.

Sup­port­ers of both can­di­dates de­scribed the re­sult as a “rev­o­lu­tion” for the party.

“[This re­sult] means there is no place left for me in­side this party,” said one Amir Peretz sup­porter who asked to re­main anony­mous be­cause he is con­sid­er­ing run­ning for a spot on a cen­ter-left Knes­set slate in 2019. “I’ve been a mem­ber of the La­bor Party for 30 years, but I can’t sup­port Avi Gab­bay. He’s a thug and an op­por­tunist, and has noth­ing in com­mon with the val­ues of this party,” the man said.

La­bor Party new­comer Avi Gab­bay was elected party chair­man Mon­day, beat­ing party vet­eran Amir Peretz 16,080 to 14,734. Photo Credit: Ei­tan El­hadez/TPS

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