Labor party 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 Tuesday that he will not run for reelection to the top slot in the upcoming party primaries.
In comments posted to his Facebook page, Gabbay called for the party’s central committee to set the leadership primary for July 2, some two months before the next national elections.
“With the conclusion of the primary process, I will end my term as chairman of the party,” he wrote.
Gabbay has 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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
His decision not to seek reelection as party head “was already clear on the night of the last election, but big decisions are not made during a storm, so I waited until things were relevant to decide and make an announcement,” Gabbay wrote Tuesday.
Referring to the disastrous April election campaign, Gabbay admitted “there were also mistakes, for which I take full responsibility, and know that these were made out of true faith in our path and commitment to victory.
“I intend to continue fighting for our values, our democracy, the future of our young people, and good public systems for the citizens of Israel,” Gabbay added.
In addition to holding elections for the leadership, the Labor party must decide if the vote will include primaries for a new slate to campaign in the September Knesset elections, which were called by Netanyahu after he failed to form a majority coalition after the previous vote.
Channel 13 reported Monday that Gabbay has suggested keeping the current slate with himself guaranteed second place. The No. 2 spot became available after former IDF general Tal Russo announced his retirement from politics and his position as second-in-command of the party.
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 its defense credentials.
The Labor party is expected to finalize a July 2 leadership primary this week, with candidates Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli, former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, and possibly former prime minister Ehud Barak expected to run.