The gift of Gabbay
Hebrew media review

The gift of Gabbay

Papers herald the 'revolutionary' election of new Labor leader Avi Gabbay and look expectantly at his chances of unseating Netanyahu

Supporters of Labor party candidate Avi Gabbay in Tel Aviv on July 10, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Supporters of Labor party candidate Avi Gabbay in Tel Aviv on July 10, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A day after some 30,000 Labor Party voters had their say, narrowly electing Avi Gabbay their new leader, it’s the turn of the Hebrew press’s pundits to have theirs, with columns metastasizing across the body politic as pen jockeys do little to hide their excitement over the next person to have a shot at taking down the prime minister.

Headlines in tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom focus on the work ahead for Gabbay, who will lead the largest opposition party, with variations on “Gabbay’s work,” both a play on the fact that the Hebrew name for Labor — “Ha’avoda” — means “work” and a preview of the challenge he will face bringing the party back into power after years of ineffectual leadership and political wandering.

But showing that some of the work is already being done for him, papers also play up the arrest of six people, including some close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the submarine purchase affair.

On the news side, the victory is called “dramatic” several times by Israel Hayom, which is the only paper to give more space to news than analysis and which plays up Gabbay’s lack of experience. The right-wing paper, which had full-throatedly backed Peretz a day earlier, runs an editorial cartoon showing Gabbay declaring victory on an already half sunken ship named “Labor.”

Yedioth notes that the win is not just Gabbay’s but also belongs to those in the anti-Peretz camp, like former leader Ehud Barak, and the loss is not just Peretz’s but also belongs to the Histadrut labor federation and others.

Newly elected Labor leader Avi Gabbay addresses supporters in Tel Aviv after winning the party's leadership primaries on July 10, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Newly elected Labor leader Avi Gabbay addresses supporters in Tel Aviv after winning the party’s leadership primaries on July 10, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Haaretz, meanwhile, quotes heavily from Gabbay’s victory speech, noting in its Page 1 subheadline his exclamation that “the journey for regime change has begun.”

That excitement transfers to Haaretz columnist Yossi Verter, one of four pundits to weigh in on the dovish broadsheet’s front page.

“[Gabbay’s win] has the potential – though no certainty – of reshuffling the deck of the center-left camp, undermining the consensus that has reigned here for the last two years and sending shockwaves through the entire political system. In some scenarios, these waves could even reach the ruling Likud party. But in the current circumstances, it’s hard to say that Gabbay’s election is bad news for Netanyahu. Right now, he has much bigger worries,” he writes, referring to the submarine affair and other investigations into the prime minister.

The paper’s lead editorial also throws its weight behind Gabbay, excoriating ousted Labor leader Isaac Herzog’s way of running the opposition — which it claims constantly sought to join Netanyahu’s government– and urging a “different course.”

“The public deserves a brave political leadership that doesn’t blur its messages – a leadership that isn’t afraid to lead it, with eyes wide open, down the path of reconciliation with the Palestinians, territorial compromise and a two-state solution; one that’s determined to stop the collapse of democracy, the weakening of the Supreme Court, the capitulation to the settlers, the abuse of Israel’s Palestinian minority and the sacralization of the school system and army; a leadership committed to narrowing social gaps and establishing a partnership among every segment of society in forging our national identity, as well as in budgets, infrastructure, education and culture; and one suffused with faith in its ability to cope with the principal challenges facing society and the state,” the editorial reads.

In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea writes that Netanyahu should be worried, comparing Gabbay (as countless others have done) to new French leader Emmanuel Macron — another outsider who managed to win the hearts and minds of the populace.

“That same disgust for the political system, for veteran politicians who run it, the same thirst for something new, for something less well-worn, less familiar, pushed Avi Gabbay to the head of Labor,” he writes. “Gabbay is the new Macron. His election shows the mood of the voters no less than it shows about him. Netanyahu doesn’t need to fear Gabbay but rather the disgust with the status quo among large and growing parts of the public.”

In the same paper, Sima Kadmon hails Gabbay’s victory as saving the party from division, with many leaders having been predicted to leave under Peretz. But she says it also means much more than that.

“Not long ago, Gabbay said that if Peretz or Herzog was chosen, it will be on page 7 of the paper. Who will care. If he is elected, it will be on the front page. But it’s not a matter of headlines or page numbers. Gabbay meant that if he is elected, it will be seen as a revolution. As a turnaround. He was right. The feeling is that the Labor Party yesterday was pushed to its limit. It’s as if the party’s voters said, come on let’s get crazy. Let’s do something wacky this time,” she writes — apparently forgetting that nearly half the voters cast ballots for non-crazy Peretz.

What we talk about when we don’t talk about David Shimron

If one is going to derive meaning out of headlines and story placement, then what to make of the fact that Israel Hayom, usually expert at pretending blindness to anything that could make Netanyahu look bad, puts the submarine affair story on page 1 and makes it the top story after its smallish Labor package. One could surmise — as some have — that the paper is no longer in Netanyahu’s pocket. Or that Netanyahu isn’t actually a suspect. Or that it was just too big to ignore.

Judging from the coverage, the answer is likely a combination of numbers 2 and 3, with the paper calling one arrestee, whose name has not been cleared for publication but is described everywhere as a lawyer close to Netanyahu (most have surmised it is David Shimron) described instead as a “man close to [businessman Miki] Ganor,” which is also true, but not really why it is such a big deal. In fact, any mention of Netanyahu in the paper’s coverage is purely ancillary.

Not so in Haaretz and Yedioth, which plaster the prime minister’s name and picture all over their coverage of the affair, including in headlines and ledes, all of which dance around revealing David Shimron’s name, but leave it pretty clear nonetheless.

In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that the fact that Netanyahu is not a suspect is giving Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit freer rein to blow the lid off the tuna can, which may still cast a shadow on the prime minister.

“Even without proof of a direct connection to the prime minister, and when the state prosecutor is still far from filing indictments, it’s hard to downplay the importance of the boats-and-submarines affair. These are huge deals, worth billions of euros, for the purchase of expensive combat systems of strategic importance. The police are investigating suspicions against a number of key defense establishment officials, in the prime minister’s surroundings and in the business sector,” he writes. “The Prime Minister’s Office is trying hard to describe Netanyahu as Mr. Security, who is preoccupied solely with guaranteeing Israel’s defense. Is it possible that all the activity of Shimron, Ganor and Avriel Bar Yosef in connection with these transactions took place under Netanyahu’s nose without his noticing anything? These issues require examination at least.”

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