Israel’s embattled Labor leader promises ‘surprise’ mergers ahead of elections
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Likud's Gallant renews his attacks on Gantz

Israel’s embattled Labor leader promises ‘surprise’ mergers ahead of elections

Avi Gabbay seeks to shore up waning support for traditional center-left party amid growing anger from within at his leadership

Labour party chairman, Avi Gabbay, speaks at a cultural event in Netanya on January 12, 2019. (Flash90)
Labour party chairman, Avi Gabbay, speaks at a cultural event in Netanya on January 12, 2019. (Flash90)

Embattled Labor leader Avi Gabbay on Saturday said there would be “surprises” and new political unions ahead of the April 9 elections, as he sought to shore up desperately needed support for Israel’s traditional center-left party.

“There will be surprises and party mergers before the elections,” he said at a cultural event in Beersheba, days after three Labor MKs announced they would not seek Knesset reelection on the party’s slate.

Gabbay repeated a call for other center-left parties not to join a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he is reelected.

“They need to commit to changing the government,” Gabbay said. “I was a minister in Netanyahu’s government and know it’s impossible to create change from there.”

Gabbay promised the Labor’s electoral slate would include candidates “with vast experience,” who would draw a wide enough voter base to unseat Netanyahu in the upcoming elections.

Labor MK Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin speaks at the party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Likud Minister Yoav Gallant again lashed out at former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, criticizing his political inexperience and relative silence since launching his election campaign in December.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yoav Gallant hold a joint press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019, as Gallant joins Netanyahu’s Likud party (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“Eight words and a campaign poster are not a substitute for policy,” he said Saturday at a cultural event in Shoham, adding that Gantz should exhibit “a little modesty.”

“There is a certain amount of naivety in trying to lead a country with zero experience in the field,” Gallant said.

On Wednesday, MKs Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Eitan Broshi announced they would split from Israel’s Labor Party. They were later joined by Hilik Bar, who said he would still campaign for the party ahead of the April 9 elections.

Labor MK Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin speaks at the party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Nahmias-Verbin and Broshi explicitly blamed their decisions to leave the Labor slate on Gabbay, whom they said has sunk the party’s popularity to historic lows by dissolving the Zionist Union — a political alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.

Nahmias-Verbin said Gabbay’s announcement to part with Hatnua — which he made on live TV in front of Livni without first informing her — was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and called it a “strategic mistake.”

She said the “basic rules of political conduct” were ignored in the party she joined under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin more than 20 years ago.

“The current state of the Labor Party worries me a great deal, and there is a real fear that it will never return to lead the country,” Broshi said in a statement. He added that there was concern about Labor’s direction from supporters and lawmakers alike.

Nahmias-Verbin had clashed with Gabbay over the Zionist Union split, and publicly called on him to step down in favor of a candidate with a better chance of defeating Netanyahu in the next elections.

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)

Labor’s popularity has slumped since Gabbay’s surprise firing of Livni, with opinion polls projecting the once-mighty political force to win just seven or eight seats in the April 9 elections. In the outgoing 120-member Knesset, the Zionist Union holds 24 seats.

Earlier this month, Gabbay was booed at a Labor event as he sought to persuade his bitter and divided party that he can defeat Netanyahu.

Facing calls for him to step aside, Gabbay attempted to ignore the pandemonium and present himself as a credible alternative to the prime minister, whose Likud party appears on course to win reelection.

In response to the announcements by Nahmias-Verbin, Broshi and Bar, Gabbay tweeted Wednesday that Labor had signed up 4,600 party members and 40 candidates for its Knesset slate just last month.

Reports of possible political unification moves between opposition parties have swirled in recent weeks as party leaders seek to form a center-left bloc in a bid to unseat Netanyahu in April.

Surveys have shown Gantz’s party would finish second to Likud in elections, though well behind it. They have also indicated he could pose a more potent challenge to Netanyahu’s ruling party if he were to team up with another centrist party.

According to reports in the Hebrew-language media, Gantz is opposed to joining forces with Gabbay and Labor, in a bid to appeal to a more a right-wing voter base. In recent weeks, Gantz has reportedly held meetings with Livni, ex-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz seen with members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh Ha’ayin, during a protest against the nation-state law, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Gantz has not set out his political platform but is widely expected to aim for the center ground. In brief remarks last week, he promised to “fix” the nation-state law on behalf of the Druze community, leading Likud politicians to immediately castigate him as a “leftist.”

On Thursday, after weeks of silence, Gantz finally unveiled his campaign slogan, amid a social media blitz as the “first step” in his election campaign.

The first Facebook post of the Israel Resilience party campaign included a video of Gantz inviting his followers on social media to join him, saying: “I put Israel before everything. Join me and we will take a new path together. Because it should be different, it can be different and we will make it different.”

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