Editorial

Zionist Union Split Can Only Hurt the Israeli Opposition

Avi Gabbay and the rest of the center-left must eschew self-promotion and focus on replacing Netanyahu, united behind whoever is most likely to win

Illustration.
Eran Wolkowski

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay made a desperate move Tuesday in light of his party’s fall in opinion polls to single-digit representation in the next Knesset. He dismantled the Zionist Union, Labor’s limping partnership with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, presumably with the goal of guaranteeing precious seats for his own people. Gabbay chose to jettison Livni by surprise on live TV, ridiculing her moves among parties over the years. He may have thought it would make him look “manly,” as if “a new leader is born,” ending the calls for his replacement that Livni had led in her feverish efforts to unite the center-left.

But Gabbay, who in the past has accused leftists of having “forgotten what it is to be Jewish,” apparently forgot the overarching goal of the bloc he purports to lead as head of the largest opposition party in the outgoing Knesset. The center-left must focus on a single goal: replacing the government and saving the country from the series of disasters inflicted on it by the far-right rule headed by the corruption suspect Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Polls and political assessments predict this will be a difficult task to accomplish in the April 9 election. But the camp must make every effort to stand strong against Netanyahu and his friends on the new right and the old, just as Livni and former Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog did in the 2015 election.

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Since the early election was called, Gabbay has been promoting himself as the only candidate capable of replacing Netanyahu as prime minister. Removing Livni was to have underscored this message.

But Gabbay is foolishly ignoring three important factors: The latest polls, with their methodological problems, make his aspirations out to be ludicrous. In addition, Livni may have changed political homes, but since the Sharon government she has professed a clear position, seeking peace with the Palestinians and a liberal democracy at home, and she proved it again in her brief stint as opposition head. Giving up a clear opposition figure like Livni does not strengthen the camp running against Netanyahu. Finally, Gabbay is facing off against Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who are ahead of him in the polls as potential leaders of the bloc. It’s hard to imagine them being impressed by Gabbay’s show of force in Tuesday’s Zionist Union legislative caucus and ready to hand him the leadership.

In the time remaining before the election, Gabbay and everyone else in the opposition must set aside their self-promotion and dedicate themselves to the enormous and necessary mission of replacing Netanyahu, united behind the leader with the greatest chance of victory. Political unification comes at the price of crushing aspirations and blurring positions, but there is no choice. As Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, one of the great leaders of the left, who feared the rise of the right, once said: “Have the courage to change before calamity strikes.”

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