Embattled Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay on Saturday repeated his call for Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and Israel Resilience chief Benny Gantz to publicly commit to not joining a Netanyahu-led government if the prime minister wins the upcoming elections.
“It is important that all the candidates in our camp clearly commit themselves in advance to only sit in a coalition that is committed to change,” Gabbay told the audience at a cultural event in the coastal city of Netanya.
“The citizens of Israel are divided into two,” Gabbay added. “There are those who want change and a government that is involved in their lives, and there are those who believe that the situation must just be accepted as it is.”
Earlier in the week, Gabbay admitted that Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff, and his new party will not unite with Labor in a bid to oust the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in April’s elections.
Both Gantz and Lapid are understood to oppose any alliance with Gabbay and the center-left Labor, since they are trying to capture votes from left and right; Gabbay has said he would insist on heading any such partnership.
Later on Thursday, Gabbay was met with boos and whistles at what was meant to be a festive conference, as he sought to persuade his bitter and divided party that he can defeat Netanyahu.
Facing calls for him to step aside as the once-mighty political force wallows in dismal poll predictions, Gabbay attempted to ignore the pandemonium and present himself as a credible alternative to the prime minister, whose Likud party appears on course to reelection.
Speaking before some 2,000 members of Labor’s Central Committee, Gabbay urged the leaders of two other rival parties to join forces with him in a combined effort to unseat Netanyahu, declaring that Israelis want to live in a “normal country.”
Gabbay, who last week broke up his party’s Zionist Union political alliance with the Hatnua party, didn’t let the hecklers stop him, instead declaring that the criticism showed a healthy democratic process. “I want to welcome the voiced opinions and different views and even the shouts of criticism,” he began.
“This is the ultimate proof that we are a true democratic party, and I tell you: Never stop expressing positions and opinions.”
“Most of the voters for Lapid and Gantz don’t want their votes to go to a Netanyahu-led coalition,” Gabbay added. “We’re the only ones who promise a coalition of change. Instead of fighting here,” he pleaded, “let’s explain that to the voters.”
The pandemonium continued after Gabbay’s speech, as veteran Labor MK Eitan Cabel took to the stage, and declared that the party leader was incapable of delivering victory and should never have been elected as its head.
“I admit, I made a mistake. We all made a mistake. I made a mistake when I supported you,” Cabel told the seething hall, to a roar of disapproval from what seemed like a slight majority of the activists.
“You broke up the Zionist Union without consultations. You led, you navigated. This failure is completely Gabbay’s,” Cabel stormed. “We can still save these elections. This is the great moment, to create a front against Netanyahu in which the Labor Party is the central axle.”
Gabbay broke up the Zionist Union, humiliating Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni by announcing the move on live television in her presence without having informed her in advance.
Rather than boost Labor in opinion polls, the split has reduced the party’s expected showing to only seven or eight seats in the April 9 elections. In the outgoing 120-member Knesset, the Zionist Union holds 24 seats.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.