Israel’s Labor party elects Avi Gabbay next chairman

The Israeli left selects a new leader. Will he bring change?

Labor Party newcomer Avi Gabbay was elected chairman on Monday, beating party veteran Amir Peretz with a 16,080 to 14,734 vote.

Outgoing party chairman Yitzhak Herzog, who ran for re-election and lost before supporting Amir Peretz in the run-off, spoke to Gabbay following the election, congratulating his successor and pledging to help unify the party in order to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the next general election, scheduled to be held in November 2019.

“I just spoke to Avi Gabbay and congratulated him on his impressive primary victory for the chairmanship of the Labor Party. I told him I would stand by him to help in any way I can to strengthen the party and to replace the current government. I wish him good luck,” Herzog said, who will continue to lead the parliamentary opposition for the time being.

“Labor members have said their word and I respect their decision,” Peretz said in a Facebook post following his defeat.

“My colleagues and I will stand firmly by Avi Gabbay’s side and help him bring Labor back into power. That is the most important mission facing us and facing Israeli society,” Peretz said.

The election brought to a close a fraught race between two candidates representing different visions for the party. Peretz, a career labor leader who served as party chairman a decade ago, had campaigned on an aggressive left-wing economic and social platform and was expected to break apart the party’s Zionist Union alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party.

In Peretz’s first stint as party chairman, he was criticized for choosing to serve as defense minister under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, instead of choosing a “social” ministry such as housing or economy, and was ultimately forced to resign as defense minister following the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.

Gabbay said his election proved that Israelis have not lost hope for change.

“Starting tomorrow, we begin our journey to the hearts of good Israelis, Israelis who believe in this country and who contribute to this country, Israelis who share our values and ideology, but who haven’t voted Labor for decades,” Gabbay declared.

The newly-elected Labor leader called on Peretz to join his campaign to replace the current national leadership.

Gabbay’s election could signal a new era for the party, although it is unclear what that future will hold. A former head of the Bezeq telecommunications conglomerate, Gabbay helped found the Kulanu Party with former Likud MK Moshe Kahlon and later served as Minister of the Environment under Netanyahu until resigning in May 2016 over the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister.

Supporters of both candidates described the result as a “revolution” for the party.

“[This result] means there is no place left for me inside this party,” said one Peretz supporter who asked to remain anonymous because he is considering running for a spot on a center-left Knesset slate in 2019. “I’ve been a member of the Labor Party for 30 years, but I can’t support Avi Gabbay. He’s a thug and an opportunist, and has nothing in common with the values of this party,” the man said.

By: Andrew Friedman/TPS