Gabbay's Rise as Labor Leader Is a Challenge to Israel's Left

The problem is that the more the liberal centrists succeed, the more the left will be erased

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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New Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay. July 12, 2017
New Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay. July 12, 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

Mea culpa: A few months ago, I met Avi Gabbay and asked him if he planned to run for the Labor leadership. He said maybe. I told him he didn’t stand a chance. He said he did. I was wrong. He was right.

A strong political ideology can get in the way of a person’s analytical ability, but in this case, I truly couldn’t believe that an outsider who came from the right, no less, could win over Labor. Gabbay apparently understood something about the party’s sad state, but he also did an excellent job. He made good use of his basic starting position, traversed the country and avoided putting down his rivals. His positive campaign style (which fit his personality) breathed fresh life into dejected Labor voters. And newcomers to the party’s voter list were mainly oblivious to the desperate clashing of the Yacimovich and Peretz camps behind the smiling candidate’s back.

That’s history already. Gabbay’s plan to double the number of registered Labor voters will spell the death of these camps and the reshaping of the party as a liberal centrist party that stands behind someone whose message is not ideological, but is composed of his personality, his history, his positive way of speaking and the promise of changing the government. (Who wants ideology anymore? He can do without the social-democrat image too. The target audience is already his.)

This message touches deeply on two powerful sentiments felt by many. The first is frustration and fatigue with Netanyahu and his associates and all they represent, particularly the alarmism, the hatred, the corruption and extravagance, and the divisiveness being sown among different segments of the population. The second is a longing to return to power. This is especially dominant among politicians and academics who lost positions of influence in the establishment.

Now hope for a change has been awakened. Maybe. For if Labor becomes a big party, and if there are no dramatic mishaps, and if Avi Gabbay proceeds cautiously and wisely and grows stronger and becomes a real leader, Yair Lapid will continue to sink (good news in itself), Moshe Kahlon will be forced to clarify where he stands, they will all have to really distance themselves from the ugliness of the right, the far right and the even farther right, and then maybe this fellow who I didn’t think would beat out Herzog will pull off an even bigger upset. (!)

Or maybe not. Maybe the great hope will turn out to be a bust (again), and another messiah will be gone in a flash. It’s hard to know what will happen and how. Still, given the whole submarines affair and the desperate desire for “something new,” one can certainly picture a contest between Gabbay’s Labor and a Likud headed by Miri Regev or Gideon Sa’ar. That’s as far as the good news goes.

The problem is that the more the liberal centrists succeed, the more the left will be erased. Not the politicians themselves, but the political path. Neoliberalism has a way of swallowing every platform that is opposed to it, including social democracy, then regurgitating it as a fake product and thus further honing its destructive bent that weakens the status of the citizen, the society and democracy. This process can only be stopped by a strong and clear-headed left that is united, and that pursues peace and equality. Its task is also to prevent the dangerous confusion of terminology.

This is no simple task. A popular, pluralistic, Jewish-Arab left that puts the periphery at the center will be battling against the current, but with the void that has now been created, there is a real place and need for it, and it has its work cut out for it.

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