Thousands of activists attended the Labor Party’s conference on Thursday in Tel Aviv, the first since the Zionist Union alliance fell apart after Labor chairman Avi Gabbay broke with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party last week ahead of the upcoming election.
Attendants of the conference booed Gabbay and one of his opponents had to be dragged out of the hall, but others received him warmly and hailed him as “the next prime minister.”
Nevertheless, his opponents proved weak and motions to remove him were defeated. Gabbay won all the procedural motions he tabled, first and foremost winning a vote for key slots on the party list to be reserved for candidates of his choosing, the second, 10th and 16th place on the slate. Some polls have shown the party will win enough Knesset seats for candidates in these slots to get elected.
Conference delegates also approved a new party charter boosting Gabbay’s powers and his motion to hold party primaries – a vote to select who runs on Labor’s slate – on Febuary 11.
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Gabbay said, “Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, you both saw the prime minister’s fearful show,” alluding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s televised statement demanding police let him challenge states’ witnesses who have testified against him in a corruption probe.
“In a normal country the prime minister doesn’t attack law enforcement agencies. You cannot be shocked by these attacks and then run and join his next coalition. We are committed to bringing change to the state of Israel,” Gabbay said.
Gabbay was booed during the speech by opponents standing at the front of the hall at the Tel Aviv fair grounds. The podium was protected by fencing, an unusual security precaution for opposition party gatherings. Loud arguments erupted in the hall, some of them threatening to erupt into violence.
Veteran lawmaker Eitan Cabel, who leads the opposition against Gabbay within the party, was also booed as he rose to the podium after Gabbay's speech. Addressing Gabbay directly, Cabel asked, "Why are you trying to push out members of Knesset with your own picks?"
"Even Bibi, the prime minister, who's showing 30 seats in the polls, asked his party for three picks and only got one," he said, "Why should we keep silent while you destroy the chances of the great people we have here - who brought us 24 seats [in the last election]?"
Cabel lamented supporting Gabbay over Amir Peretz in the vote for party leader. "Amir, my friend, this is what I have to say to you: I take full responsibility for my mistake. I apologize," Cabel said.
Cabel also added that he would not run for head of the party if snap elections are held for party chair.
After all the speeches, Gabbay returned to the stage to say a few closing words: "From here on out, we stand united. Some pleasant and some unpleasant things were said tonight. From here we move forward. I will use my picks with great caution."