Labor MK Stav Shaffir on Thursday said party chairman Avi Gabbay had “ended his political career,” amid anger in the party over his having considered an offer to join a government under Benjamin Netanyahu.
After the Knesset on Wednesday night voted to dissolve itself mere weeks after it was sworn in, and hold new elections on September 17, Shaffir said her party needed to rebuild and present the public with a fresh, hopeful vision.
“We in the Labor party need to elect [new] leadership,” she told Channel 12 news. “Avi Gabbay has ended his political career. 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.”
She said it was time to “come together, close ranks, examine additional [possible] alliances and form leadership that can stand at the forefront of the fight to save Israeli democracy.”
Gabbay on Wednesday evening acknowledged that his center-left party had weighed, and ultimately rejected, a Likud offer to join the coalition in place of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, which was holding out and ultimately refused to sign an agreement.
He said the proposal included burying legislation to bypass the High Court of Justice and attempts to protect the prime minister from prosecution, and granting Labor a veto right in “any anti-democratic legislation.”
Unconfirmed media reports have indicated that Gabbay and his no. 2 in the party, MK Tal Russo, were inclined to accept, while the faction’s four other members were vehemently opposed. Likud MK Miki Zohar said Likud had been hoping Gabbay and Russo might break away from their party to join up.
Speaking to the Ynet news site Thursday morning, Gabbay defended his conduct, saying the offer was “very serious in that it accepted the demands of 50,000 people who came out to demonstrate on Saturday.”
He said he had been prepared to look at it as long as “one, we’re stopping all these insane initiatives, and two, it’ll really happen.”
Asked about his campaign promise not to join a Netanyahu-led government, Gabbay noted wryly that “it didn’t really help us in the elections” and insisted it was his duty to do what he thought was right for the country.
“If we all truly fear the loss of democracy and there’s an offer here that safeguards democracy, it is my duty to weigh it,” he said.
Prior to the announcement of new elections and in light of Labor’s exceptionally poor election result — the worst in its history — Gabbay had agreed to call a party conference in June, in which a new leadership contest was expected to be scheduled for November. It was believed that he would not run for reelection.
However in light of the new election date of September 17, party MKs have called for an immediate process to choose their next chair.
There have been increasing calls for Labor to consider an alliance with the left-wing Meretz party ahead of the elections, though Gabbay on Thursday also raised the possibility of a union with the centrist Blue and White.
Meanwhile, party no. 2 Russo told Army Radio on Thursday that he would “make a decision” regarding his political future in the coming days. It was not clear whether he was weighing leaving the party or running for its leadership.
Russo also defended his examination of Likud’s coalition offer, saying it “was lavish and we had to look at it.”
He added: “I would have considered an offer by Hamas as well. Everything was on the table.”
The response by the party’s other four MKs was scathing.
Former Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich said in a tweet, “I warn anyone in my party who would even consider taking advantage of ruining the party by joining Netanyahu’s corrupt government that they will pay a heavy price.”
MK Itzik Shmuli, who finished first in the party’s primary election, said: “I have no intention of serving in a government under Benjamin Netanyahu… and providing a defensive wall to corruption. I call on my colleagues to reject this offer outright.”
Labor veteran MK Amir Peretz, another former party leader, tweeted: “We will not be Netanyahu’s life jacket. Any other option would be a breach of everything we promised the public. We will do what we promised.”
Shaffir dismissed the entire matter as “spin” and said the party would not prostrate itself before Netanyahu.
Likud MK Zohar told Channel 13 on Wednesday his party had sought to lure away Gabbay and Russo — knowing full well that most of Labor would not join the coalition — in order to gain a majority in the Knesset.
“The strategy here is very simple,” he said. Likud believed Gabbay “is finished in the Labor party” in light of the last election’s results. Meanwhile Russo, who Gabbay dropped into the no. 2 slot using his chairman’s privilege, was seen as someone who could possibly be swayed.
“It was clear the four others would say no, and we could have possibly won Tal Russo and Avi Gabbay and then we’d have 62 [seats].”
Netanyahu was forced into the position after failing to secure a coalition deal with Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. Talks had stalled amid an impasse between Liberman and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox.
Once it was clear Netanyahu did not have a majority, Likud and its prospective partners — as well as Arab parties — voted in favor of disbanding parliament and going to new elections.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.