Labor's Gabbay Proposes New Election for Party Chairman 'As Soon as Possible'

Current leader hasn't said yet whether he intends to run for reelection but proposed that the party's slate for the September race not be changed, leaving him in the top spot

Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay (center) and his party members, Israel, April 9, 2019.
David Bachar

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay announced on Sunday that he intends to propose holding new elections for the position of party chairman "as soon as possible," but said it would not be accompanied by a party vote on the party's slate for the Knesset election scheduled for September 17, which would remain the same as the slate in the election in two months ago.

Gabbay, who has been chairman of the party since 2017, release a statement saying he will present his proposal to the party's leadership on Tuesday.

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The proposal comes after last week's failure by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government following the April 9 election, which led to a vote by the Knesset to dissolve itself and head for a snap election. In the April vote, the Labor Party saw its Knesset presence shrink to just six seats.

Any decision on a new vote for party chairman would require the approval of the party's leadership. Gabbay has not said whether he intends to run for reelection as chairman, but his proposed arrangement would leave him in the top spot on the Knesset's slate of candidates for the September Knesset race and leave Tal Rousso in the No. 2 position. Rousso has not announced, however, whether he intends to remain on the slate for the September vote.

Former party leader Amir Peretz announced on Sunday he would run for the position. Peretz seconded Gabbay’s proposal not to hold an open primary election, but let the Labor’s central committee elect the new leader.

Other possible contenders for the position are MKs Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir. Former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who is looking to launch a political career, has said he is also considering running for Labor chairman.

Another former party leader, Shelly Yacimovich, has ruled out running again, saying that during her tenure as chairwoman, she had to spend most of her time dealing with internal party politics, which she says kept her away from her duties as a member of parliament.

Gabbay placed Rousso in the No. 2 slot on Labor's slate for the April election and the two were also involved last week in talks over the party joining a Netanyahu-led governing coalition. Those talks eventually bore no fruit.

There is a growing sense of displeasure over Gabbay's leadership following the party's poor showing in the last election and as well as last week's discussions over joining a Netanyahu's government, despite his earlier assertions that the party would not join such a government.

The prime minister's offer included a commitment that the so-called immunity law, which automatically gives governing legislators immunity from prosecution, would be scrapped.

On Sunday morning, Yachimovich told Kan Reshet Bet public radio that she was concerned about what she called "the shocking state" of the party, including its collapse in the April election and "the final nail," as she described the negotiations that Gabbay engaged in about joining a Netanyahu-led government.

But speaking on Army Radio on Sunday, Gabbay said he didn't embark on the negotiations on his own and had consulted with other party members. "During talks with the prime minister, I told him that I wasn't doing this on my own. I met with Knesset members, with some twice, with some three times [to discuss the matter].

"I also sat with Shelly and she too didn't say 'no' immediately. She also sat with Yariv Levin," he said, referring to Netanyahu's negotiator on the formation of a governing coalition.

Peretz said he had heard of the understandings being negotiated with Netanyahu for the first time from the media. Peretz issued a statement saying that he had not met with Gabbay over the coalition talks and that if he had, he would have rejected joining a Netanyahu-led government.