Labor leader says he considered offer from Netanyahu to save Israeli democracy

PM’s meeting with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut was sign to Avi Gabbay he was serious in his offer to stop assault on Israeli judiciary

Labor party leader MK Avi Gabbay arrives at a meeting with opposition party members, ahead of the Knesset vote on dissolving parliament, at the Knesset, May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party leader MK Avi Gabbay arrives at a meeting with opposition party members, ahead of the Knesset vote on dissolving parliament, at the Knesset, May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Embattled Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay said Thursday night that even though he had repeatedly vowed to not join a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he seriously considered it after he was offered the means to help preserve Israeli democracy.

Gabbay said that Netanyahu had agreed to his demands that there be a change in the government’s rhetoric toward the country’s judiciary, which opponents of the premier say he has allowed to come under attack as he weighed legislation to grant himself immunity from prosecution.

The Labor head said that the prime minister had offered him “veto power” on any of the government’s measures regarding the court system, which Gabbay said deserved to be at least considered.

Gabbay also said he had learned from the episode not to issue blanket statements after he spent the election campaign saying he would “never” sit with Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meeting Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and her deputy Hanan Melcer (L) at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Courtesy)

The Labor leader confirmed a report that a surprise Tuesday meeting between Netanyahu and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut was part of an attempt by Netanyahu to show Gabby his offer was serious.

That meeting came a day after Hayut blasted Netanyahu over looming legislative efforts to stifle the state’s judicial system and grant him immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu and his Likud party lawmakers were reportedly planning to pass so-called override legislation, removing from the court its power to strike down Knesset laws, and government and parliamentary decisions, it deems unconstitutional.

Gabbay on Wednesday evening acknowledged that he had weighed, and ultimately rejected, a Likud offer to join the coalition in place of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, who was holding out and ultimately refused to sign an agreement, initiating snap elections slated for September 17.

During the Thursday evening interview on Channel 12, Gabbay said that by Sunday when Netanyahu had first reached out to him, it was clear that Liberman had no intention on joining the government.

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay (podium) flanked by Tal Russo (right) and former Labor leader Amir Peretz (left) addresses supporters and media as the results in the general elections are announced in Tel Aviv, on April 09, 2019 (FLASH90)

“Before my eyes I saw an opportunity to stop the erosion of democracy and those laws,” he said, referring to an immunity bill and a Supreme Court override bill.

“If I had a moment of doubt that he was using us, I would not have entered the room,” explained Gabbay, who throughout the campaign said that Netanyahu could not be trusted and issued dozens of ads calling on the leaders of other parties to vow to never sit with Netanyahu.

The Labor chairman frequently differentiated his party from Blue and White, by saying his faction was the only one between the two that would never sit in a government with Netanyahu.

Confronted with the past statements Gabbay admitted that his “worldview” up to the experiences of the past several days had been to definitively reject the notion of ever serving in a government with Netanyahu

“I know one thing today: I will not say anything like that anymore because you never know what situation you will find yourself in,” he explained.

Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, Gabbay held consultations with fellow party members where he shared with them what Netanyahu had offered. Save for his hand-picked No. 2 Tal Russo, all of the MKs rejected the idea outright.

Nonetheless, Gabbay continued to entertain the idea until late Wednesday night when Channel 12 broke the first story on the existence of the offer. Minutes later, the Labor Party issued a statement that it had decided to reject the proposal.

MK Stav Shaffir said earlier Thursday that Gabbay had “ended his political career,” amid anger in the party over his having considered an offer to join a government under Netanyahu.

“Last night’s events prove it. The Labor Party needs to be rebuilt and cleared of old backroom dealings, in favor of a determined party that believes in its ability to win,” Labor’s No. 4 MK told Channel 12.

Asked about his political future, Gabbay said his party would hold leadership primaries in another month, by which point he would make a decision.

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