After ousting Livni, Labor chief taps Yachimovich as opposition leader
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After ousting Livni, Labor chief taps Yachimovich as opposition leader

MK and former head of the party accepts Avi Gabbay’s offer, says she’ll ‘represent the entire opposition with loyalty and respect’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay and MK Shelly Yachimovich at a Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on September 14, 2017. (Flash90)
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay and MK Shelly Yachimovich at a Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on September 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Labor party chair Avi Gabbay appointed former party leader MK Shelly Yachimovich as opposition leader Tuesday following his decision to part ways with Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni.

“I am proud of Shelly, an excellent MK who leads determined struggles in the Knesset and beyond. Shelly is an example of a public servant committed to making a change,” Gabbay said in a statement.

“She has previously served as an excellent head of the opposition,” he added, referring to her time as Labor head and opposition leader from 2011 to 2013.

In most cases, the leader of the largest Knesset opposition party is the opposition leader, but Gabbay — who defeated Isaac Herzog in a primary to take the helm of Labor in 2017 — is not able to take on the position since he is not a member of the Knesset.

Ending his partnership with Livni, Gabbay split the Zionist Union into its separate Labor and Hatnua factions and announced that he would be running in the April elections under the Labor banner.

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich speaks to press after Avi Gabbay was elected as the party’s new leader, at Labor headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 10, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We are ready for elections and for victory,” he concluded the statement.

Yachimovich later wrote on Twitter that she accepted the position after Gabbay asked her to fulfill the role until elections.

“The main work of the head of the opposition is during the term of the Knesset and not after its dissolution, but even under these circumstances I promise to represent the entire opposition with loyalty and respect,” she said.

Separately, MK Itzik Shmuli was appointed Labor faction leader and opposition whip, taking over the latter role from Hatnua MK Yoel Hasson.

The announcement of the appointments came after the Knesset House Committee formally approved the Zionist Union’s request to split into Labor and Hatnua.

The motion, which is “in accordance with the agreement signed between the Labor and the Hatnua parties on the eve of the elections to the 20th Knesset,” meant that the 24 seat union was split into 18 Zionist Union MKs and six Hatnua lawmakers.

In the latest development to shake up Israel’s political scene ahead of April’s election, Gabbay announced earlier Tuesday that he was dissolving his partnership with her, the two will not be running together, and he was disbanding the Labor-Hatnua partnership that constituted the Zionist Union. He made the announcement as Livni sat at his side, humiliating her as TV cameras rolled, without giving her advance notice.

To the shock of party lawmakers, and of Livni herself, at a faction meeting in the Knesset, Gabbay said that he had “hoped and believed that the new partnership would lead to our joint growth, to a real connection, and to mutual support. But the smart public has seen that this is not the case, and has drawn away.”

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay (L) announces the shock break up of the Zionist Union as his erstwhile partner, head of opposition Tzipi Livni, looks on, during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hours after the deed was done, Livni protested that he could at least have lifted up the phone and called her in for a discussion if he felt the alliance wasn’t working.

“Last week, I said that our priorities must be the state, the party, and then myself,” Livni said hours later at a press conference. “What you heard today [Gabbay’s speech] is what I heard throughout this entire period: Me, me, me.”

Gabbay’s move came after Livni called last week for the country’s centrist and leftist parties to “set our egos aside” and unite in a bid to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In an apparent dig at Gabbay, who has reportedly refused to consider a union with another party in which he is not number one, she said she would be the first to give up pride of place on a new unity slate.

File: IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, left, seen with Hatnua head Tzipi Livni, right, at a ceremony at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak as Israel marked the Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 27, 2014. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

She has since been rumored to be seeking to join forces with the new political party Israel Resilience, founded by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who in turn is said to be wary of partnering her because she is regarded as too left-wing.

Gabbay, who in the wake of Livni’s ouster was also said to be courting Gantz, stressed on Tuesday that he too wanted to form a united front against Netanyahu, but said he could not continue to work with Livni and questioned her “loyalty” to his leadership.

Gabbay’s dramatic gambit Tuesday, and Livni’s attempts to form a center-left bloc, come as the Zionist Union faced turmoil over several polls showing Likud, which has 30 seats in the outgoing Knesset, far ahead of any would-be challengers, and Yesh Atid consistently beating Zionist Union in any electoral scenario. Some polls had put Zionist Union as low as 8 seats.

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