Embattled Labor Party to vote for new leader on July 2
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Embattled Labor Party to vote for new leader on July 2

Outgoing head Avi Gabbay, in parting speech, takes blame for poor election showing, but calls on Labor to change its culture of internal backbiting

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaking at the Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaking at the Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Labor Party will hold a leadership convention on July 2 to choose a replacement for outgoing head Avi Gabbay, the party announced Sunday.

In his parting speech to a party convention in Tel Aviv, Gabbay said he took full responsibility for Labor’s dire showing in the April 9 elections that saw its presence in the Knesset drop to a mere six seats, its lowest number in history.

But Gabbay also used the podium to slam the party’s out-of-touch mentality, saying Labor’s old ways of thinking were blocking its rehabilitation with the voters where “something in the way between idea and deed, between values ​​and reality – remains stuck all the time.”

After becoming party leader two years ago, Gabbay, a businessman, had a fractious relationship with party stalwarts who had trouble accepting an outsider who tried to change Labor’s direction. Gabbay admitted public infighting cost the party support, saying voters told him that instead of casting their traditional ballot for Labor they voted for other parties in a bid to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even though they believed in the Labor Party values.

Labor Party MKs Itzik Shmuli (left) and Stav Shaffir (right) meet with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

If no one emerges with a majority from the July 2 leadership convention, a second round of voting for a new leader will take place a week later. Two of the main candidates who have already declared their candidacy are Knesset members Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir.

Shmuli announced his candidacy last week, saying he hopes to restore the lost trust in the party. Shaffir declared her candidacy on June 7,  joining former Labor chairman Amir Peretz who previously led the party from 2005-2009 and served as defense minister where he pushed through the Iron Dome rocket defense system.

The party’s No. 2, former army general Tal Russo, who was parachuted in by Gabbay in February and was rumored to be considering a leadership bid, has instead decided to quit politics.

While party members voted Sunday to keep the same list of candidates for the September general elections as in the April 9 ballot, there will be some juggling as the new leader will replace Gabbay in the number one slot on the list, and other candidates will likely move up one position as Russo held the number two spot.

Gabbay told party members the public sees that Labor is “stuck” in an old institutional and organizational structure.

“Over the past two years, I had hoped to succeed in changing this culture. But you cannot change one who does not want to change,” Gabbay said. “The public heard the culture of noise and not our story.”

Labor Knesset member Amir Peretz (center, white shirt) at a press conference with current and former party officials presenting a plan to rehabilitate the Labor Party, in Tel Aviv, on May 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“How discouraged our supporters are.”

After emerging from the April 9 elections with 35 seats for his Likud Party,  Netanyahu was unable to cobble together the minimum 61-seats to form a majority coalition government in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-member parliament. The Knesset voted to dissolve itself on May 29 and set September 17 as the date for new elections.

Israel’s political parties have to submit their list of candidates to the Central Elections Committee by August 1.

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