Avi Gabbay won Monday's Labor Party primary to become the new head of the party, taking 52 percent of the vote, and beating Amir Peretz, a former party leader and defense minister.
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On Monday, over 30,000 of the Labor Party's 52,000 members voted to decide which of them will be the party’s new leader after the two finished at the top last week's vote. Avi Gabbay received 16,080 votes, and Amir Peretz received 14,734, with 59 percent of party members voting.
In a speech to supporters after his victory, Gabbay called for party unity, urging his defeated rival Peretz to stand by his side.
"Tomorrow the election campaign to replace the government in Israel begins," Gabbay said. The new Labor leader, who is not a Knesset member, also reiterated his call to ousted party leader Isaac Herzog to continue serving as the chairman of the opposition in the Knesset.
In response to the election results, Peretz congratulated Gabbay for his victory, calling him a "key partner in the mission to replace the Netanyahu government."
Peretz said he accepted the results and vowed to work to support Gabbay.
While voting was still going on, Gabbay, a businessman with almost no political experience, said "there is intensive involvement from other parties" in the vote.
The statement was taken by some to mean that the leaders of other parties in Israel, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would prefer that Peretz - and not Gabbay - win the party's leadership.
Former party Chairman Herzog commended Gabbay on the "impressive victory," stressing his support and determination to work with him to replace the current government.
MK Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnuah party that ran under the joint Zionist Union ticket with the Labor Party, congratulated Gabbay. "Our shared mission is now to foster a new hope for replacing the government and offering a new way, a better way for Israel and its citizens," she said.
Livni added that following the Labor Party primary, the Zionist Union will need to expand its support to create a "large bloc" to replace Netanayhu.
MK Shelly Yacimovich praised Gabbay's achievement as confirmation of the "vibrant, wise and democratic" Labor Party that has elected him to lead.
Praising Gabbay, MK Erel Margalit underscored his win as key in the party's ultimate goal to "bring down the government and present a clear alternative."
Peretz enjoyed the support of most of the party’s organized blocs.
MK Zehava Galon, who heads the more left-wing Meretz party, also praised Gabbay's victory, saying, "Avi is a serious and impressive man. I will gladly work with him to replace the government. Israel deserves a critical and forceful opposition."
Gabbay on the issues
Ahead of the vote, Haaretz readers sent questions to the candidates.
Asked whether he would support a unilateral withdraw from the West Bank, Gabbay was unenthusiastic, but said he would resume negotiations with the Palestinians and stop construction outside the settlement blocs. “But I don’t believe in unilateral withdrawal,” he added.
On issues of religion and state, Gabbay promised to end what he termed the growing sacralization of the state school system and also said he supported civil marriage and limited public transport on Shabbat.
“A modern democratic state must give its citizens the right to marry and divorce in the manner they choose, and I’ll work to make this completely possible,” Gabbay said.
Asked whether he would invite the Arab parties’ Joint List to join any government he might head, Gabbay said he believed Israeli Arabs should be represented in government, but that parts of the Joint List were so extreme that forming a coalition with them was impossible.
“The Joint List’s current composition includes anti-Zionist elements like [Haneen] Zoabi and [Jamal] Zahalka, so we can’t cooperate with this composition,” Gabbay said.