After 4-month stint, Labor’s No. 2 Tal Russo quits politics
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After 4-month stint, Labor’s No. 2 Tal Russo quits politics

Former IDF general says he won’t be a partner in a party chairman succession battle; former Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz announces comeback, eyes leadership of left-wing party

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay (right) and party member Tal Russo during a press conference held in Kibbutz Nahal Oz during a visit to southern Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip, on March 7, 2019. (Flash90)
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay (right) and party member Tal Russo during a press conference held in Kibbutz Nahal Oz during a visit to southern Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip, on March 7, 2019. (Flash90)

Former IDF general Tal Russo of the Labor party on Monday announced his retirement from politics after a four-month stint as second-in-command of the embattled center-left party.

Under leader Avi Gabbay, the Labor party saw its worst-ever showing in the April national ballot, winning six seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Ahead of the upcoming September elections, which were called last month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition, the party is gearing up for another leadership primary in July, and Russo had previously suggested he could throw his hat in the ring for the chairmanship.

On Monday, however, Russo dropped out entirely.

In a Facebook post, the former head of the army’s Southern Command said he launched his political career in February with “big plans for change” for both the Labor party and Israel.

“The situation in which we’ve found ourselves caught — early elections and a leadership primary  in such a short period of time — do not allow doing things as I had hoped,” he wrote. “I won’t be a partner to a succession battle, and therefore I am removing myself as a candidate for chairman and from the list for the 22nd Knesset.”

In a statement, Gabbay said it was “sad that a wonderful man like Tal is leaving politics” and praised him for his campaigning efforts.

Russo was placed second on the Labor list in February in a spot reserved by Gabbay, bypassing the party primaries, in a bid to boost the opposition party’s defense credentials.

The Labor party is expected to finalize the July 2 leadership primary this week, with candidates Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzhik Shmuli, former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, and possibly Gabbay and former prime minister Ehud Barak expected to run.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party (C), with Labor party parliament members (R-L) Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli and Shelly Yachimovich at a party meeting in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

After tanking in the election, the much-weakened party’s reputation sustained another beating last month after it emerged that Gabbay had seriously considered an offer by Netanyahu to join his coalition before turning it down, despite repeated promises during his campaign never to join forces with the Likud leader.

Also Monday, Israeli journalist and former Knesset lawmaker Nitzan Horowitz announced a political comeback and said he would challenge Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg for the leadership of the left-wing party.

MK Nitzan Horovitz of Meretz.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Horowitz served in the Knesset from 2009 to 2015 as a Meretz lawmaker.

Both Meretz under Zandberg and Labor under Gabbay have flirted with the idea of running together on a joint ticket in September to widen their appeal, though no steps to merge have yet been taken.

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