After stormy term, Labor chief Gabbay announces he is quitting politics

Former minister who led Labor to worst-ever showing admits party in ‘crisis,’ blames clash of personalities with former leaders, says he does not have plan for the future

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor leader MK Avi Gabbay, who has faced pressure to resign ever since he led the party in April to its worst ever election showing, announced Wednesday that he would leave political life after stepping down as party leader.

The announcement marked an ignominious end for a political career that saw Gabbay rise from near obscurity to lead one of the country’s leading parties, only to fall just as quickly as he led the faction to its worst-ever showing at the voting booth.

Gabbay, a former Bezeq executive and environmental protection minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said earlier this week that he would not compete to retain his leadership position, but left the possibility open for continuing in some lawmaking capacity.

“After much deliberation I decided to go with my heart and my truth and remove myself from the slate for the next Knesset,” Gabbay wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday night. “Of course, my commitment to the public, our values ​​and attitudes remains unchanged.”

“I have no plans ahead. I do not know how and what I will do for the public, but my commitment remains,” he wrote. He said he had made the decision not to run for the party’s leadership long ago.

Gabbay, 52, said he accepted blame for the “great crisis” the party found itself in.

But he blamed some of the problems on the fact that former party leaders had stuck around as Knesset members, which had led to a clash of personalities.

“In a world outside politics, when a CEO finishes, he moves on and does not become subordinate to the person who was under him,” he wrote.

“I had four former chairpersons under me, a phenomenon that naturally leads to personal problems and I do not want to be a continuation of that phenomenon,” Gabbay wrote.

Gabbay was apparently referring to former Labor Party leaders Isaac Herzog, MK Shelly Yachimovich and MK Amir Peretz, as well as former Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni who coupled her party with Labor before the 2015 elections to form the Zionist Union.

In January 2019 Gabbay dramatically cancelled the partnership by announcing, in front of live television cameras, that Labor was splitting from Hatnua, apparently catching Livni by surprise. He was widely criticized for the move, including from within the party.

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)

Gabbay had come under increasing pressure to step down after the party won only six seats out of the Knesset’s 120 in April elections, the least ever for the party or its Mapai predecessor, which led Israel for its first 30 years.

He faced even more criticism after it was revealed that he had considered joining Netanyahu in a coalition to form a government — a move he had pledged repeatedly he would never make — although he eventually decided against it.

The attacks on Gabbay intensified after reports said that during coalition discussions he left the door open for immunity for Netanyahu against prosecution in the graft cases he is facing, contrary to what Gabbay himself had claimed.

Gabby took over the party leadership when he beat previous leader Issac Herzog in party primaries in 2017. Herzog was appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency of Israel in 2018 and Livni retired from politics before the last Knesset elections in April.

Before joining Labor, Gabbay was one of the founders of the Kulanu party. From 2015-2016 he served as environmental protection minister, even though he was not a member of Knesset at the time.

He resigned the position in 2016 in protest of the appointment of hawkish MK Avigdor Liberman as defense minister. In December 2016 he announced he was joining Labor and then won the party leadership in July 2017.

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)

The Labor Party is expected to finalize a July 2 leadership primary this week, with candidates MKs Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli already having announced they will compete for the leadership post. Former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, and former prime minister Ehud Barak may also run.

Labor is scrambling to resolve its leadership crisis before upcoming elections. Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition after the April vote and last month dissolved parliament while calling new elections for September 17.

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