The Israeli Left Wanted a Leader Who's a Little Different. They Got It, Big Time

Avi Gabbay’s straying toward the soft right is an obvious move. In recent decades, being on the left in Israel does not bring power

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay attends a party meeting, Spetember 14, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

The “storm” spurred by Avi Gabbay’s hardly remarkable statement about the settlements will dissipate as quickly as foam on the water’s surface. So he said that we don’t have to evacuate settlements, even isolated ones, under a peace agreement. Menachem Begin swore he would never evacuate communities and he destroyed the entire Yamit area in Sinai. Yitzhak Rabin promised never to speak with the Palestine Liberation Organization and he signed the Oslo Accords with arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat. The father of the settlements, Ariel Sharon, evacuated all the settlements in Gaza and another three in the West Bank.

All of them said things, swore to them, and remained alive (except for one who was sadly murdered). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unlike them, says things and means them. If only we could believe that.

The impression this week that the Labor chairman is swerving right (especially after he declared on Saturday that he wouldn’t accept the Joint List as a partner in any government he would form) isn’t necessarily so. Gabby didn’t grow up in the left; his family were Likudniks; he has voted Likud and only recently was a senior member of the center-right Kulanu party, which he was heavily involved in founding.

Nor did he run on a blatantly leftist agenda during his campaign for party leadership, as did some of his rivals. He was chosen because party members wanted something different – someone who wasn’t a politician, someone who was Mizrahi – of Middle Eastern descent – and a former Likudnik, among other things. Now they’re getting this difference in large doses, twice in the past week alone.

The familiar leftist purism came to life following Gabbay’s statements on invalidating the Joint List as a coalition partner and on the settlements. Until the Labor chairman expresses positions that are somewhere between those of Meretz and Hadash, they won’t see him as fit to lead them.

While the eternally disappointed leftists dumped on him from one side and the right wingers accused him of masquerading as them from the other, the more sophisticated right hastened to give him a bear hug. “There’s no reason for these attacks on Avi Gabbay,” tweeted Gideon Sa’ar. “Differences in outlooks aside, it’s encouraging that the uprooting of Jewish communities is no longer a principled or practical option.”

Gabbay’s straying toward the soft right is an obvious move. In recent decades, the left in Israel does not bring power. Gabbay came to politics from the world of business. He has surely conducted successful negotiations. He understands where the voter pool is and if he doesn’t pull a few seats from there, his chances of forming a government, which look theoretical at present, will be nil. Most of the voters for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu were disappointed by Netanyahu and the Likud. Whether those voters will believe Gabbay is another question.