After worst result in Labor’s history, party members look to oust leader Gabbay

Official says a decision to fire chairman ‘a matter of time,’ as MK Yachimovich bemoans ‘nightmare’ result of 6 seats for party that ruled Israel for decades

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay addresses supporters and media, as the results in the elections are announced at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019. (Flash90)
Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay addresses supporters and media, as the results in the elections are announced at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019. (Flash90)

After the center-left Labor party was left in shock with its worst result ever in Israeli elections, party members on Wednesday morning directed the blame at leader Avi Gabbay, with some calling for his resignation and others suggesting a union with the Meretz party, which is further to the left.

The party, which led Israel for the country’s first 30 years, crashed to just six seats Tuesday with 4.46 percent of the votes, its worst showing in its 71-year history.

“Gabbay will have to go and it would be better if he does so of his own volition,” an unnamed senior Labor official told the Ynet news website.

Another official was quoted as saying: “It is only a matter of time before a request is filed to convene an emergency meeting of the Labor’s central committee to oust Gabbay and set a new date for primaries.”

A third Labor member said Gabbay “can’t stay in his position a single day longer.”

MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) at the Knesset, June 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Eitan Cabel, who placed low in the Labor primaries after criticizing Gabbay and won’t be in the next Knesset, said: “Gabbay must hand over the keys immediately and [we must] choose a temporary party chairman, because the situation as it is cannot continue.”

The only lawmaker who made it into the next parliament and agreed to speak on record was MK Shelly Yachimovich.

“I woke up this morning after very few hours of sleep and I was sure I was having a nightmare,” Yachimovich, the current opposition chief and a former Labor leader, told Ynet. “Despite having prepared and seen it coming, the reality sank in. This is a bad defeat, a collapse.

“I am already thinking ahead about what we do, how we gather the people who believe in our path,” she added. “We will have to do some soul-searching and thoroughly rehabilitate the party.”

Yachimovich suggested teaming up with Meretz — which has four seats after 97% of the votes have been counted — an idea that was floated several months ago but didn’t come to fruition.

“There is room to think about new directions, including the union with Meretz that failed and I thought was important,” she said.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay (C) speaks at a press conference alongside MKs Amir Peretz (R) and Shelly Yachimovich in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2019. (Flash90)

Yachimovich and MKs Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli — all of whom do not belong to Gabbay’s camp within Labor — are rumored to be planning action in the coming weeks against Gabbay.

However, Gabbay himself has refused to step down from the Knesset or the party leadership, blaming the bad result in conversations with his associates on the Blue and White party pilfering a significant portion of Labor’s traditional voters.

On Tuesday night, after three exit polls predicted the party had gotten six to eight seats, Gabbay called the results “a huge disappointment” and “a real blow to our electoral power,” but did not address calls for him to step down.

“It’s not easy. It’s not easy for us and not easy for me. This is not the way I had hoped to end this evening,” he said.

In the 2015 election, Labor, running together with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, was the second-largest 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)

But months ahead of Tuesday’s elections, Gabbay announced on live TV the termination of Labor’s ties with Hatnua, thus disbanding a partnership that constituted the Zionist Union, as Livni sat by his side without having been given advance notice.

The move was widely slammed and was seen as a major cause for an erosion in support for Gabbay.

But the party also saw much of its base flee to Blue and White as its voters looked for a way to oust Benjamin Netanyahu.

The results point to a sad decline for the party that was instrumental in establishing the State of Israel.

The Labor Party was formed in 1968 by a merger of three parties, one of which was David Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party, which was founded in 1930. In the years leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Mapai was the de facto leadership of the Jewish community and played a key role in the creation of the state.

In this May 14, 1948 photo, cabinet ministers of the new State of Israel are seen at a ceremony at the Tel Aviv Art Museum marking the creation of the new state, during prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s speech declaring independence. (AP Photo)

Labor remained Israel’s unchallenged ruling party until 1977, when Likud wrested the premiership away. Since then it held power for a total of eight years, two of them as part of a unity government with the Likud. That period included the 1990s Oslo accords, negotiated by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres.

Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995, and the Oslo accords remain highly controversial among Israelis.

Ehud Barak’s victory in the 1999 elections and his two-year premiership were the last time an Israeli coalition was led by Labor, which has been in decline since.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report 

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