After Winning Election as Labor Party Leader, Avi Gabbay Faces Task of Building His Staff

Gabbay, who is a former Bezeq CEO, is expected to draw on prior political contacts but also seek advice from former business colleagues

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Avi Gabbay on the evening of his election as Labor Party leader
Avi Gabbay in Tel Aviv on the evening of his election as Labor Party leader, with a campaign poster of his opponent, Amir Peretz, in the background.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/AP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The first task of newly elected Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, who moves into the chairman’s office on Wednesday, is to recruit his staff.

New to the party, Gabbay hasn't had the benefit of Labor’s veteran advisers. In contrast, Labor MK Erel Margalit, who ran unsuccessfully this month in the first round of the voting in the leadership race, had the services of Shimon Batat, former campaign chief to two leaders of the party — Ehud Barak and Isaac Herzog. Margalit also had the assistance of Ayelet Azoulay, bureau chief to the late Labor politician Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Gabbay does, however, have the support of young advisers, some from within the party and some from the outside.

The new chairman, according to someone who worked on his campaign, asks people for advice, but then makes decisions alone. He finds unimportant various matters that are important to his advisers — such as the way he dresses — and on such subjects he reportedly doesn’t listen to them.

“What’s beautiful about Gabbay is that he doesn’t make a big deal over mistakes. You learn and you move on. He doesn’t take revenge and he doesn’t threaten people,” the source said.

From the outset, Gabbay availed himself of advice from communications consultant Linda Sasson, who was one of the first people to join his campaign. She is a former spokeswoman for the Federation of Local Authorities and was No. 4 on Eldad Yaniv's failed Eretz Hadasha Knesset slate. Toward the end of the campaign, Gabbay brought in Hila Lifshitz, his spokeswoman when he was environmental protection minister. Prior to that she was a producer of current affairs programming on Army Radio. Lifshitz is expected to stay on with Gabbay.

Also in his corner during the campaign was Itzik Alrov, who led the so–called cottage cheese protest over the cost of living in 2011 and subsequently worked as an adviser to Shas party leader Arye Dery on cost of living issue. It is unclear whether Alrov will continue working with Gabbay now that he has been elected.

Gabbay’s political adviser during the campaign was Yoni Regev, who helped provide access for the party newcomer to Labor activists. The new chairman would like him to stay on as well. Regev started out as head of youth outreach for Ehud Barak. In the most recent Knesset elections in 2015, Regev worked for MK Itzik Shmuli, who placed third on Labor’s Knesset slate. Regev then opened a law firm before Gabbay recruited him for his Labor Party chairmanship campaign.

Gabbay puts a great deal of emphasis on the internet and video clips, and worked with the firm Sosenko Tsipris, which handled his campaign in January to sign up supporters as Labor Party members and also did branding work on the campaign. The membership drive resulted in 4,000 new party members.

Another adviser is Hillel Partuk, a former spokesman for the Tel Aviv municipality who led that city’s branding campaign and later worked briefly for the Israel Police. Partuk then worked for various firms, among them a company owned by business magnate Yitzhak Tshuva that was seeking to evict residents of disputed land in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Givat Amal in advance of construction of a news development there.

Gabbay is also said to highly value the work of Gil Goldenberg, who managed his Election Day headquarters as a volunteer. Goldenberg is a former head of the Tel Aviv University Student Union and is currently head of Neches, a communications firm that targets university students. Gabbay is expected to hire Goldenberg as a senior aide.

The new party leader cannot serve as leader of the opposition in the Knesset because he is not a Knesset member. As opposition leader, he would be entitled to state funding for four staff positions, but under the current circumstances, his party will have to foot the bill for Gabbay's entire staff.

Gabbay is a former CEO of Bezeq, the major Israeli telecommunications firm. He therefore understandably also has friends in the business community whose advice he seeks. Among them are his predecessor at the helm at Bezeq, Jacob Gelbard, and Roy Vermus, who was ousted as head of the Psagot investment firm and is now director of a hedge fund.

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