Israel's New Labor Party Head Seeks Changes in Bylaws to Cement His Power

Avi Gabbay wants more control over slate, more authority within party institutions

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay after winning the primary on July 10, 2017.
Amir Cohen/REUTERS

New Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay is proposing several changes to the party’s bylaws that would expand his authority and bolster his control of the party.

They include the right to put four people of his own choosing on the party’s Knesset slate and the abolition of a provision reserving the ticket’s seventh slot for the secretary general of the party.

Since being elected chairman last month, Gabbay has frequently complained in private conversations that the party’s bylaws don’t give him the power he needs to improve its position. Thus he recently decided to exploit the momentum of his election to try to change these bylaws.

Any changes must be approved by the party conference, scheduled to convene September 4.

Gabbay’s proposals have upset many senior figures in the party. Inter alia, he wants to strip the party’s secretary general of his power in addition to abolishing his reserved slot on the ticket. Party sources said Gabbay has nothing but contempt for the current secretary general, Eran Hermoni, and considers him to be a terrible manager.

After the conference agenda was published, Hermoni issued a statement saying Labor would have to choose between being “a one-man party or the party of the masses.”

Gabbay also wants all administrative authority transferred from the party secretariat to the chairman’s office, with the secretariat – which would be renamed the party executive – having powers of oversight only. Another proposal would let Gabbay handpick two of the first 10 candidates on Labor’s Knesset slate, as well as one of the second 10 candidates and one of the third 10 candidates, instead of making them compete in the primary. “Only people who bring added value – another two or three [Knesset] seats – will be given guaranteed slots,” he told a party conference in Ashdod last week.

In addition, Gabbay wants to appoint the party’s Knesset whip himself instead of letting the party’s Knesset members elect the whip. Finally, he wants the power to decide which Knesset committees every party MK should sit on.

In a letter sent to conference members on Sunday, Gabbay said that despite its many strengths, Labor has always wasted too much time and energy on its own internal organizational and institutional issues, “thereby diverting resources ... from the main and vital effort vis-a-vis the Israeli public.” For the party to return to power, he continued, “the leadership’s attention and energy must be outward rather than inward.”

But even some of Gabbay’s loyal supporters object to his latest proposals. “Who sits on which committee will make us win 30 seats?” one MK demanded incredulously. “Gabbay is busying himself with nonsense.”

“Gabbay has opened too many fronts,” said another.” He’s taking on every institution this party has.”