Opinion

Israel's Left Must Merge

Labor's Gabbay refuses to look reality in the eye, and is willing to burn down the house with all its inhabitants

Israel Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay at a conference of The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, February 4, 2019
Ilan Assayag

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay doesn’t get along very well with Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg. Zandberg and Labor's Shelly Yacimovich are not exactly enamored of one another. There’s nothing more one can say about Tzipi Livni, head of Hatnuah, and Gabbay. And nobody is crazy about Eldad Yaniv. But still, the Israeli left doesn’t have the privilege of tossing tens of thousands of votes into the garbage can.

In polls published by Livni a few months ago, she was worth six Knesset seats if she ran independently. Gabbay was wise enough to know that surveys are worthless, but even now her political strength could still mean one or two seats.

The entry into the political arena of former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has bolstered the bloc against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Gantz's Hosen L'Yisrael, Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Joint List) from a low of 44-46 seats to about 55-57 seats. Reaching 61 is almost impossible.

The left doesn’t have the alternative of becoming embroiled in ego battles. Just imagine a slate in which Yacimovich is in first place, Zandberg in second and Livni in third, with the ticket also including Gabbay, perhaps Ehud Barak and Amir Peretz. It’s not an alternative government, but it could bring in 10 or maybe even 15 seats, on a good day.

About a year ago Gabbay already knew there was a chance he would be facing a catastrophe. “Even if we have only four seats, I won’t leave,” he vowed. Now he is quickly approaching this scenario. An in-depth study conducted by Meretz showed that Gabbay is already approaching four seats. Meanwhile, he is continuing to race toward the wall.

In the interesting autobiography that he published, Gabbay keeps repeating the theme that he proposed some initiative or another (high-speed internet at Bezeq, when he was CEO there, for example). Everyone said that it wasn’t possible, but he proved that it was. Unfortunately, the Labor chairman has convinced himself that he is some sort of American hero who can overcome all the difficulties.

Zandberg is scared to death that on her watch Meretz won’t pass the electoral threshold. Meretz is yearning for a merger. Livni is willing to link up with anything that moves, as is Yaniv. Gabbay remains adamantly opposed. The explanation: Electorally, a merger would scare away traditional Labor voters. That is indeed possible, but at the moment the subject of debate is not between 10 and 20 seats: There is already a battle for survival, and in a scenario that is not at all imaginary, there is a likelihood that Labor won’t enter the Knesset.

The political establishment is now talking about a merger between Gantz and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid. It isn’t certain that such a union would in any way help the chances of getting rid of Netanyahu; it could make the new, joint party smaller and turn it into a circus, without any real dividends. A merger on the left, on the other hand, of parties with microscopic differences between them, is essential.

Reading Gabbay’s book is somewhat depressing. You can sense what politics does to a talented person, who's full of good intentions. How he has suddenly become half paranoid, focused on himself, and mainly morphed into a relentless marketing machine. When he hears about someone in distress, he contacts the family and donates money to them (and then writes about it in the book).

About two weeks ago, four graduates of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, headed by Alik Ron, approached Gabbay and requested a meeting in the name of Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amiram Levin, who wanted ask the party leader to guarantee him a slot on the slate. A meeting was scheduled.

Ron and his friends arrived at Gabbay’s office at 9 A.M., only to discover to their amazement that he wasn’t there. Instead, they were interviewed his campaign manager and a few staff members, who asked, “How can you help?” Gabbay’s staff realized that they had come because Levin knows how to “bring in the Arab sector.” By 9:30 three of the four guests had already left in anger. Ron persisted and managed to meet Gabbay for 15 minutes.

No, the failure to show up won’t affect Gabbay’s seats per se, but it demonstrates the kind of destructive process in which the Labor chairman is involved. The man refuses to look reality in the eye, and is willing to burn down the house with all its inhabitants.

There are just over two weeks left until the final date for submitting the final Knesset slates. If there is no merger on the left, Livni and Yaniv will have to demonstrate responsibility and give up their lost battle. If their commitment to a government revolution is sincere, they will have to resign. Their chances of passing the electoral threshold alone look very slim at the moment.