Despite the short time that has elapsed since the result of the Labor Party’s leadership vote was announced, it’s already clear that newly elected chairman Avi Gabbay has breathed new life into the party. The left now feels that it’s possible to expand its ranks and even to return to power.
Nevertheless, the most important question, which hasn’t yet been answered, is the nature of the change Gabbay is bringing. Precisely because he is a representative of the “new politics” and lacks a public record from which a clear political profile could be drawn, he is an ideological riddle.
Gabbay, who has voted Likud in the past, cofounded the Kulanu party with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and then quit the Netanyahu government over the firing of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. His socioeconomic worldview is unclear. He’s a free marketer who believes in improving government agencies and public systems by “upping the budget for civilian spending to proportions similar to the norm in the OECD.” His personal wealth, which he accumulated as CEO of Bezeq, is estimated at millions of shekels, but he still benefits from a middle-class image.
On the diplomatic front, Gabbay has been careful not to stray beyond the bounds of the familiar comfort zones: Two states, a regional peace process and freezing settlement construction outside the major blocs. Even his 17-year-old son Daniel went farther than that when he said, “My father is going to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
Gabbay’s main goal is to bring new voters to Labor – starting by returning those who decamped for Yesh Atid – and thus to replace the government. “We’ll replace Netanyahu and bring the 30 Knesset seats we need,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Gabbay understands quite well that the only way to effect change is via the ballot box. He’s right, and therefore, we shouldn’t make light of his achievement in the party leadership vote, and or the fact that he won despite his weak starting point. For a party as devoid of self-confidence as Labor, that’s an important asset.
Nevertheless, winning must not become the be-all and end-all. If the goal is to replace Benjamin Netanyahu without posing a real alternative to his policies, the opposition already has Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid. We don’t need 50 shades of center-right. Therefore, Gabbay must present a substantive alternative to the current prime minister’s worldview.
The Labor Party hasn’t just forgotten how to win elections, but also what it is. Gabbay would be wise to make it clear to the public where Labor is heading under his leadership and to sketch out the direction in which he wants to lead the country.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now