Herzog Agrees to Stay on as Israeli Opposition Leader Despite Labor Primary Loss

Newcomer Avi Gabbay, who won the Labor Party's primary elections, is not a member of Knesset and therefore cannot fill the post

Isaac Herzog and Avi Gabbay.
Moti Milrod

Former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog agreed on Wednesday to stay on as opposition leader, despite his recent loss to newcomer Avi Gabbay in the party's leadership race. Gabbay, who is not a member of Knesset, cannot serve as opposition leader.

"I have great sorrow, but will help you in any way possible," Herzog told Gabbay, who had asked his predecessor to remain in his post. "I thank you for calling on me to continue serving as the chairman of the opposition," he added.

For his part, Gabbay expressed satisfaction with Herzog's decision. "I am very glad that Isaac is continuing on as opposition chairman," he said. Referring to the latest polls, which showed the Zionist Union gaining more seats and narrowing the gap with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, Gabbay said "voters are returning, it's happening."

"Our job is to bring everyone back [to the party], but more than all the polls, I am encouraged by the reactions from all the parties, on the left, on the right, religious and ultra-Orthodox [parties]. We will again be a party in which every Israeli feels at home."

A day after he defeated his rival Amir Peretz in the party primary runoff, Gabbay declared that "the campaign to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starts today." 

“Israel has announced new elections, as far as we’re concerned. We will replace Netanyahu and win the 30 Knesset seats needed,” he said.

Since Gabbay's victory over Peretz, a former party leader and defense minister, large numbers of people have asked to join Labor. “The internet site crashed, the telephone switchboard collapsed. People want to join because they understand that this is the way they can strengthen us,” he said.

According to a Channel 10 poll, if elections were to take place today, Likud would win with 29 seats, the Zionist Union, which includes the Labor Party, would receive 24 seats and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid would receive 16 seats.

Channel 2's poll provided similar results: Likud would win with 25 seats, Zionist Union would come in second with 20 seats and Yesh Atid would receive 18 seats.