Israel's Labor Chief Gabbay Announces He Won't Seek Reelection

Gabbay led the party through a stinging defeat in the April 9 election, and came under criticism for considering to join Netanyahu's government despite vows he wouldn't

Avi Gabbay, chairman of Israel's Labour Party, arrives to deliver a speech during a party conference in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019.
AFP

The chairman of Israel's Labor party, Avi Gabbay, announced Tuesday morning that he will not try to get reappointed as the party's chief ahead of the new election.

Nonetheless, Gabbay said he is not leaving the party and intends to reserve the No. 2 spot on the party's slate, which had been occupied by Tal Rousso, for himself in the next election. Gabbay said he believes that the next chairman should be elected in a primary election and that he intends to propose to hold one in July. 

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"The direction was clear on the eve of the last election, but you don't make big decisions during a storm, so I waited for things to be relevant in order to decide and make an announcement," he stated. "We were on a journey that faced us with hurdles from every direction, a journey marked with complex challenges from within and from without, which made our mission very difficult," he added. 

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Gabbay also admitted that "there were mistakes for which I take full responsibility, and know that they were made out of full conviction in our path and in our commitment to win." 

The 3,700-member Labor Party convention is expected to decide on Wednesday whether to hold primaries for both the position of party chairman and for the party's slate for the September 17 Knesset election, or only for chairman. Gabbay has proposed that only the chairmanship be up for a vote while the party slate would remain almost unchanged.

In a related development, however, the Tel Aviv District Court is due to rule on a petition seeking to have the party convention select the next chairman and the party slate rather than holding a primary election in which the party's tens of thousands of members would be eligible to vote.

A key decision for whoever succeeds Gabbay as chairman is whether the party should run alone in September or link up with the centrist Kahol Lavan party or the left-wing Meretz party. Meretz officials have shown interest in such a link-up, but senior members of Kahol Lavan have expressed the view that running on a joint slate with Labor would not garner more votes for Kahol Lavan and would alienate right-wing voters.

The veteran Labor Party suffered a stinging defeat in the April 9 election, when it won only six Knesset seats under his leadership. Gabbay also came under harsh criticism when he parted from the political alliance with Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party earlier this year, breaking up the Zionist Union political alliance in a surprising televised news announcement that caught Livni unprepared. 

Gabbay was also slammed when he revealed that he considered joining a Netanyahu coalition before the premier's negotiations to form a government reached a deadlock. Throughout the election campaign, Gabbay vowed that his party would not join a Netanyahu-led government, even using this promise as a campaign slogan in which he repeatedly stated that his is the only outfit that is openly stating it would not join forces with the prime minister.  

Earlier this month when Gabbay announced that the party would hold new elections for the position of party chairman, several lawmakers emerged as potential replacements. Among them is former party leader Amir Peretz, as well as 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.

On Monday, Tal Russo, former head of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, who received the safe number two spot on the Labor slate in the last election, announced that he would not run for a Knesset seat in September.

On his Facebook page he wrote: “In the current situation, early elections and the election of a new party chairman in such a short period of time do not allow me to do things as I had hoped. I don’t want to be a partner to battles of succession, and am therefore removing myself from the race for the position of chairman and from the slate for the 22nd Knesset.”