Falling short in primary, veteran Labor MK Eitan Cabel says Gabbay ‘took me out’

Falling short in primary, veteran Labor MK Eitan Cabel says Gabbay ‘took me out’

Lawmaker drops to 15th on slate, likely to miss out on return to Knesset since sinking party expected to garner only 5-7 seats

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

Labor MK Eitan Cabel delivers a speech at the Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Labor MK Eitan Cabel delivers a speech at the Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In addition to his preferred candidates winning top spots in Monday’s Labor primary, party chairman Avi Gabbay notched another success at the other end of the results list, with his outspoken rival Eitan Cabel failing to reach a realistic spot on the slate.

Cabel, a veteran of no fewer than seven Knessets who had sought unsuccessfully to oust the Labor leader amid recent dismal polling, came in 11th place in the ballot of 33,771 party members, having scored just 13,885 votes. When taking into consideration various spots reserved for the chairman and his choices, Cabel drops to 15th on the final slate

Receiving 28,865 and 25,775 votes respectively, the leaders of the 2011 social protest movement, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, took the party’s top spots behind Gabbay.

Before the primary election, polls predicted Labor could get only five to seven seats in the next Knesset, which would be its worst-ever result. With such a showing, Cabel would lose his seat in parliament after nearly 23 years as an MK.

Speaking Tuesday morning in his first public comments since the sobering results were announced — he did not turn up to the party results the night before nor appear on stage with the other top 20 candidates — Cabel said that Gabbay was behind his decline.

“He took me out, undeniably,” Cabel told Ynet news, referring to the party chair elected 20 months ago. “I paid a price for raising questions. Voters gave me a slap but they don’t realize I am not the problem.”

Gabbay, for his part, said in radio interviews on Tuesday that he hoped and believed Labor, boosted by the success of the primaries in general and the younger candidates in particular, would now rise in the polls and do so well on April 9 that Cabel would make it back into the Knesset after all.

Avi Gabbay (C), leader of the Labor Party with Labor party members and MK’s after result of the Labor party primaries are announced in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Cabel has been Gabbay’s most fierce critic from within the party, accusing him of being personally responsible for its declining public support. Speaking at the party conference last month, the veteran lawmaker called for Gabbay to be removed in order to prevent the party from disappearing.

“I admit, I made a mistake. We all made a mistake. I made a mistake when I supported you,” Cabel told the hall of activists, to a roar of disapproval.

Speaking Monday, Cabel repeated a claim that Gabbay had threatened to bring Labor down if its leaders failed to support him. He said that the party chairman had worked to block him from a realistic slot on the slate by pushing an “assassination” list to advance other candidates ahead of him.

Cabel said that Gabbay had tried to contact him Tuesday morning, but that he was in no rush to get back to him. “He called me up, sent me a message saying he was trying to get hold of me. I expect I will get back to him sometime during the day,” he said.

Itzik Shmuli (L) and Avi Gabbay (R) embrace after the results are announced at the Labor party primaries, February 12, 2019 (Courtesy)

Speaking on 103FM radio, top vote-getter Shmuli said he would be sad to see Cabel leave the Knesset.

“In the end, Eitan is the flesh and blood of the party, he is an esteemed and respected member,” Shmuli said. “Even if I did not always agree with the manner in which he put things on the table in recent weeks, I never doubted that he really cared. He’s been a member of the party for more than 30 years and I’m sorry for him.”

Shmuli and Shaffir’s high placing is seen as a vote for a younger generation of leadership for the party.

Behind Shaffir came former leaders Shelly Yachimovich in third place with 23,278 votes and Amir Peretz in fourth with 23,113. Merav Michaeli came in fifth, and Omer Barlev sixth, followed by MK Revital Swid, newcomer Yair Fink, MK Michal Biran and another rookie, Gavri Bargil.

Shmuli and Shaffir entered the Knesset in 2013 after making a name for themselves as leaders of the 2011 social protests. Both used their primary campaign to offer a youthful hope to return the party to its lost prominence.

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