Analysis

Humiliation and Revenge Served Cold: How Labor Head Dropped the Bomb and Rattled the Israeli Left

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, fed up with 'taking shit' from Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni, held a surprise press conference to break up their partnership in front of the cameras

Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay and opposition chief Tzipi Livni, January 1, 2019.
Emil Salman

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay kept the breakup of Zionist Union a secret. He wanted to embarrass Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni, and intentionally surprised her and her party members in front of the cameras.

In recent weeks he repeatedly “took shit,” as he put it, from Livni, and this was his revenge. 

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Gabbay not only publicly skewered Livni and accused her of deliberately undermining the partnership between them. He also made the announcement past the final deadline for splitting up Knesset factions, in order to prevent Labor MKs from joining her and perhaps forming a more attractive slate at Labor’s expense.

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Hatnuah claims that Gabbay acted out of “pure evil.” The Zionist Union leader not only chose to not give Livni a head’s up, but he allegedly lulled her into complacency by scheduling a meeting with her later on Tuesday in order to discuss their continued cooperation. The party spokesmen were not updated either, neither were journalists, who were encouraged to come to what had been described as a routine faction meeting.

Labor party sources say that Gabbay had been formulating his plan for a while, after she had convened a public press conference to extort the opposition chairmanship for herself and conducted negotiations with center-left parties behind his back.

Gabbay announcing Labor split from Livni's Hatnuah.

Given the Labor party's decrease in popularity in recent polls, Gabbay told his close associates that he'd rather head a small party than drop out of the race. Party activists were told that Gabbay would adopt the Kulanu party model – a relatively small party that succeeded in getting several key places at the cabinet table.

“We’re talking about a calculated leadership move by Gabbay,” a party source told Haaretz. “He understood that Livni wasn’t making his party more popular, and that the partnership with her wasn’t working. Throwing out Hatnuah is aimed at calming Labor activists who were protesting the prospect of reserved slots [for Hatnuah] on the slate, harming their chances of being elected. This move makes it clear to Labor MKs that now they have a boss who’s banging on the table. They should be scared of him and rally around him.”

Gabbay looked very tense during his speech and his hands were shaking. As the minutes passed and his remarks started to focus on Livni, faction members realized that Gabbay was gearing up for a dramatic announcement. He left the room immediately after his speech. Livni too rushed out of the room, but exited through a different door. Before leaving, she declined to comment for the press.

Afterwards, Livni convened the four Hatnuah MKs in her office to plan their political future. Among other things, she decided to hold a press conference for later on Tuesday.