The secretary-general of the Labor party on Thursday publicly called for chairman Avi Gabbay to resign after having led the party to its worst ever election result, saying that a new leader is needed in order to “begin the work of rebuilding” the once venerable left-wing party.
The party, which led Israel for the country’s first 30 years, crashed to just six seats Tuesday with 4.46 percent of the votes, its worst showing in its 71-year history. In the 2015 elections, Labor, as part of the Zionist Union faction, won 24 seats.
Secretary-general Eran Hermoni, who was number 11 on the party’s electoral slate, said he told former Kulanu minister Gabbay this morning that his time at the helm of Labor was up.
“I made it clear to Gabbay that in light of the devastating election outcome, he must take responsibility and resign immediately from the position of chairman of the Labor party,” Hermoni said in a message sent to party members.
He said that anyone who cares about the future of Labor “has a duty to say clearly: any other chairman who brought about such a result would resign.”
The party has a dizzying history of replacing its chairman after election losses. Since it last won the election in 1992, it has seen a whopping total of 13 different leaders.
Hermoni admitted that Gabbay’s resignation would not save the party on its own, “but without it,” he added, “we will not be able to begin the vital work of rebuilding and rehabilitation.”
On Wednesday, MK Eitan Cabel, who placed low in the Labor primaries after criticizing Gabbay and won’t be in the next Knesset, said: “Gabbay must hand over the keys immediately and [we must] choose a temporary party chairman, because the situation as it is cannot continue.”
However, Gabbay has refused to step down from the party leadership, blaming the poor result in conversations with his associates on the Blue and White party having pilfered a significant portion of Labor’s traditional voters.
On Tuesday night, after three exit polls predicted the party had gotten six to eight seats, Gabbay called the results “a huge disappointment” and “a real blow to our electoral power,” but did not address calls for him to step down.
In the 2015 election, Labor, running together with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua in an alliance called the Zionist Union, was the second-largest party.
But months ahead of Tuesday’s elections, Gabbay announced on live TV the termination of Labor’s ties with Hatnua, as Livni sat by his side without having been given advance notice.
The move was widely slammed and was seen as a major cause for an erosion in support for Gabbay.
But the party also saw much of its base flee to Blue and White as its voters looked for a way to oust Benjamin Netanyahu.
The results point to a sad decline for the party that was instrumental in establishing the State of Israel.
The Labor Party was formed in 1968 by a merger of three parties, one of which was David Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party, which was founded in 1930. In the years leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Mapai was the de facto leadership of the Jewish community and played a key role in the creation of the state.
Labor remained Israel’s unchallenged ruling party until 1977, when Likud wrested the premiership away. Since then it held power for a total of eight years, two of them as part of a unity government with Likud. That period included the 1990s Oslo accords, negotiated by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres.
Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995, and the Oslo accords remain highly controversial among Israelis.
Ehud Barak’s victory in the 1999 elections and his two-year premiership were the last time an Israeli coalition was led by Labor, which has been in decline since.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.