Gabbay Under Gun in Labor Race

israel elections
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay (L) seen during last week’s vote to dissolve the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor party MKs long dissatisfied with chairman Avi Gabbay will have their chance to get rid of him in a leadership race in the coming weeks.

Gabbay announced on Sunday that Labor’s executive committee would meet Tuesday to approve his proposal to choose the next chairperson “as soon as possible.” However, that would not mean a rerun of the party’s recent primaries; its list for the September 17 elections will stay the same.

Gabbay’s willingness to consider entering Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition last week outraged most of his colleagues, who immediately rejected an offer from Likud. The incident added to an already substantial number of Labor members who are demanding his replacement after the party’s dismal performance in the April elections.

Rejection of PM Netanyahu’s offer may not have been as strong as was reported. Besides Labor No. 2 Tal Russo, Gabbay claimed that MK Shelly Yachimovich was also tempted.

“Shelly didn’t say no,” he told Army Radio. “She sat with [Likud negotiating team head] Yariv Levin after. Shelly told me she didn’t think agreements can be reached because Netanyahu will trick us, that we don’t have a political operator who could make such a deal, and that I don’t deserve the top portfolio. None of these indicate her answer was no.”

Yachimovich denied it, and said that Gabbay should stop attacking his MKs.

Labor MK Itzik Shmuli, who Gabbay said only rejected the Likud offer the third time he met with him, said: “My blood is boiling but I will not say more.”

Meanwhile, over the weekend, MK Stav Shaffir said that “to revive Labor we must hold primaries now. Gabbay needs to vacate his seat tomorrow morning and announce open primaries for the leadership.”

“The party is in its worst crisis in history, and the first step to rescue it is to hold general primaries for its leadership,” agreed MK Itzik Shmuli. “We can and need to get the party on its feet and restore the trust we have lost among many audiences.”

MK Amir Peretz also called for primaries to choose the next party chairman, but said they should be held not among the general public but only among the approximately 3,400 members of the party’s central committee.