Echoing Netanyahu, Labor chief says leftists ‘forgot what it means to be a Jew’

Avi Gabbay quotes PM in emphasizing need for Jewish values, but denies rightward shift in the party under his leadership

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay heads a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay heads a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Continuing the rightward drift in the Labor party under his leadership, Avi Gabbay said Monday that the left “forgot what it means to be a Jew.”

“In ’97 [Bibi] Netanyahu was caught on camera saying ‘the left forgot what it means to be Jews,'” Gabbay said at an event at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba. “You know what the left did in response to this? Forgot what it means to be a Jew.”

Gabbay’s remark was an allusion to a 1997 hot mic comment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was recorded telling venerated Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri that “the left forgot what it means to be Jews.”

Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri (R) (screen capture: YouTube)

Expanding on his comment, Gabbay said, “People feel that I am moving closer to Jewish values. We are Jews, living in a Jewish state.

“I seriously think one of the problems with Labor party members is that [the party] has moved away from this,” he continued. “They say about us ‘We are now only liberals.’ That isn’t true. We are Jews and we need to talk about our Jewish values.”

A number of left-wing lawmakers disputed Gabbay’s comments, which sparked a swift social media backlash.

“No, Avi, you’re the one who forgot. There is no contradiction between Judaism and liberal values, and not all Jews are willing to bow down to the ultra-Orthodox or national religious version of Judaism,” Meretz party leader Zehava Galon tweeted. “The left who founded your party knew this once.”

“I am a leftist, a Jew and do not have a memory problem,” Labor MK Mickey Rosenthal wrote on Twitter.

Over the past few weeks, Gabbay has made a number of statements at odds with the traditional views of the center-left-leaning Labor, including calling West Bank settlements “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism” and saying he would not evacuate them as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. He also said he would not join a coalition with the Joint (Arab) List.

Responding to a student’s question on the party’s change of direction, Gabbay denied Monday that there has been a shift.

“I did not break left or right; they said I moved, but it isn’t true,” he said, maintaining he has been consistent in his views.

Since Gabbay was chosen as Labor chairman in July, the party has seen a leap in the polls, with a number of the seats it is expected to pick up coming at the expense of Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. Like Gabbay, Lapid has tacked rightward on a number of issues, in a bid to pick up support from more moderate members of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.

Regarding Yesh Atid, with which Labor is neck-and-neck in polls, Gabbay said Monday he would be willing to serve as Lapid’s deputy in a potential coalition.

Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 6, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, Gabbay urged the government to call new elections for the sake of political stability.

“In the past few weeks, we’ve been hearing about a conflict in the coalition: On the one hand the prime minister wants to call elections as soon as possible, and on the other, the party leaders prefer elections on schedule,” Gabbay claimed during the weekly meeting of his Zionist Union faction, an alliance of Labor and Hatnua. “In this debate, I agree with the prime minister: The time has come for elections.”

The next election is currently scheduled for November 2019, and Netanyahu has not openly acknowledged any interest in calling a snap vote.

Gabbay, who is not a sitting MK, has positioned himself as a challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud.

While recent polls have indicated Likud would still be the largest party if elections were held, it could have difficulty cobbling together the 61 seats needed to form a coalition, as would the Zionist Union.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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