Outgoing opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Wednesday verbally clashed with Labor chief Avi Gabbay, saying he had tried to “humiliate” her by ousting her from the Zionist Union opposition faction on live television.
Gabbay announced Tuesday that he was dissolving his partnership with Livni, the two will not be running together in April’s elections, and he was disbanding the Labor-Hatnua partnership that constituted the Zionist Union. He made the announcement as Livni sat by his side and TV cameras rolled, without giving her advance notice.
Slamming Gabbay for lacking ideology, the Hatnua leader told Army Radio Wednesday that her dismissal was “a petty and ugly incident the likes of which hasn’t been seen for many years,” and that it had made her feel uncomfortable.
On Tuesday evening, Livni seemed to accuse Gabbay of sexism, claiming in an interview with Channel 10 that he had tried to portray himself as macho by attempting to humiliate her.
“I am getting comments from women who say that the story of a man making himself more manly by trying to publicly humiliate a woman — those days are over,” she said. “I think so too.”
In her Wednesday radio interview, Livni hit back at Gabbay, saying, “You can’t achieve leadership when you try to create public humiliation and score political points as a result.”
Livni charged that Gabbay isn’t a worthy candidate to lead the country, also taking a surprise dig at former IDF chief Benny Gantz, who has joined politics with his new Israel Resilience party but has yet to present his vision or make public comments.
“I at least have an ideology, which I cannot say about the Labor Party chairman or about whoever tries to join politics on the basis of ‘I’ll say nothing and you will elect me,'” she said.
Livni had previously said she won’t rule out joining forces with the new players in the political field, including Gantz, and has said she would have no problem giving up the top spot in such an alliance with the goal of replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Gabbay responded to the accusations on Wednesday, telling 103FM radio that Livni “is a very strong woman, and I never regarded her as a woman, but as a colleague. She isn’t a victim, she’s a politician.”
MK Shelly Yachimovich, who has been tapped by Gabbay to replace Livni as opposition leader, also mildly criticized Gabbay, telling Israel Radio: “I think the way he chose to bid farewell to his partner Livni was extreme and it could be done in a different, more dignified way.”
During his dramatic speech at a faction meeting in the Knesset on Tuesday, Gabbay said — to the shock of party lawmakers, and of Livni herself — that he had “hoped and believed that the new partnership would lead to our joint growth, to a real connection, and to mutual support. But the smart public has seen that this is not the case, and has drawn away.”
Hours after the deed was done, Livni protested that he could at least have picked up the phone and called her in for a discussion if he felt the alliance wasn’t working.
“Last week, I said that our priorities must be the state, the party, and then myself,” Livni said hours later at a press conference. “What you heard today [Gabbay’s speech] is what I heard throughout this entire period: Me, me, me.”
Gabbay’s move came after Livni called last week for the country’s centrist and leftist parties to “set our egos aside” and unite in a bid to unseat Netanyahu. In an apparent dig at Gabbay, who has reportedly refused to consider a union with another party in which he is not number one, she said she would be the first to give up pride of place on a new unity slate.
She has since been rumored to be seeking to join forces with Gantz, who in turn is said to be wary of partnering her because she is regarded as too left-wing.
Gabbay, who in the wake of Livni’s ouster was also said to be courting Gantz, stressed on Tuesday that he too wanted to form a united front against Netanyahu, but said he could not continue to work with Livni and questioned her “loyalty” to his leadership.
The dramatic developments came as the Zionist Union had faced turmoil over several polls showing Likud, which has 30 seats in the outgoing Knesset, far ahead of any would-be challengers, and the Yesh Atid opposition party consistently beating Zionist Union in any electoral scenario. Some polls had put Zionist Union as low as 8 seats.
Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.