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Israeli Labor Party Leader: The New Likudnik

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Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay, July 10, 2017.
Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay, July 10, 2017.Credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Avi Gabbay, who took the Labor party election by storm and was elected chairman in hopes of breathing new life into the peace camp, is proving that he is no different than his predecessors, who fell into the trap of sucking up to the right. Gabbay’s blitz began with him saying, “We will not sit in the same government as the Joint List I don’t see any [connection] between us.” Then followed a statement that there is no need to remove settlements as part of a peace agreement. This shows us that the new Labor chairman is in the midst of a hollow campaign for his image.

Gabbay’s PR trick – during his campaign he declared he was a man of the left, and his victory speech emphasized that Israel needs “leadership that takes care of Dimona and not just Amona” – is all too familiar.

In an attempt to signal to right-wing voters, Gabbay has come out with right-wing statements that aim to distance him from the Arabs and show support for the settlements. During her term as Labor chairwoman, Zionist Union lawmaker Shelly Yacimovich said things like, “I certainly don’t see the settlements project as a sin and crime” and “to call Labor left-wing is a historic wrong.” Isaac Herzog, who succeeded her, said that “We must stop giving the impression that we are Arab-lovers.”

The result of these moves is also well-known: Right-wing voters aren't tempted by a poor imitation of a right-wing party and remain in their political home, while Labor party heads are replaced one after another. It is surprising that Gabbay, who is a management expert, has not internalized these repeated failures. But the damage caused by his statements reaches far beyond the electoral domain. Gabbay, together with Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid – who's busy with his own pointless sycophancy of the imaginary right-religious-nationalist electorate while politically excluding Arabs and leftists (including the persecution of human rights organizations for political gain) – is laying the groundwork for delegitimizing the opposition to right-wing rule.

Opposition leaders' flight from "left-wing positions" as if they were on fire contributes to such views. It also aids in erasing the ideological opposition to the right's path. If even the chairman of the Labor party is embarrassed to express leftist political policies out loud, then how is it possible to complain about the contempt the right and center have for the left?

Labor party members, like their colleagues in the left-wing camp, deserve a leader who will show loyalty to their basic values. Not just the left but the entire country needs a true opposition. Labor took a risk and bet on a relatively anonymous candidate in hopes of renewing its ranks. But woe be it if they discover that they unintentionally replaced their worldview instead. If the party does not sober up quickly, the Zionist Union and the rest of the opposition are sentencing themselves to extinction and absorption into the Likud.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel

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