Senior Blue and White candidate admits concern over union chief colleague

Senior Blue and White candidate admits concern over union chief colleague

Noting that voters are worried Avi Nissenkorn will be named finance minister, Gabi Ashkenazi says Histadrut leader won’t dictate policy

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative. Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party during a campaign event in northern Israel, March 7, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
Illustrative. Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party during a campaign event in northern Israel, March 7, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

A top Blue and White candidate admitted Tuesday that his party has concerns over the ideology of one of his colleagues, a national labor union chief who is reportedly being considered for the role of finance minister if the party wins the coming Knesset elections.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who is fourth on the Blue and White slate, made the remarks about former Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn during a campaign event in Rishon Lezion on Monday.

At the gathering, a member of the audience told Ashkenazi that she had doubts about voting for the party because she has a problem with Nissenkorn being appointed finance minister. Media reports have said Nissenkorn would be the party’s choice for the position.

“We admit that,” Ashkenazi said in a recording from the event published Tuesday by Army Radio. “You aren’t the first to ask. We don’t intend to implement the policies of the Histadrut in Blue and White. We don’t intend for Blue and White to have a culture of unions.”

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn seen at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem on December 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ashkenazi then went on to defend the former national union chief, who’s fifth on the party slate, noting that “I know Nissenkorn, he is a responsible person” and that he fits well with the Blue and White party.

Over the years the Histadrut has been associated with nationwide strikes instigated by powerful workers’ unions.

Another former IDF chief, Benny Gantz, leads the party, followed by MK Yair Lapid, and then Moshe Ya’alon, another ex-IDF chief who went on to serve as defense minister. Blue and White was created in a merger between Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Ya’alon’s Telem party.

Blue and White’s No. 9, Yoaz Hendel, on Saturday said his party was “in favor of free competition and a free market economy,” adding that he had talked to Nissenkorn and understood that he would be ready to adapt to the party’s decision on the matter, the Makor Rishon website reported Tuesday.

Nissenkorn joined Israel Resilience in mid-February, with Gantz reportedly promising him a ministerial position if the party is part of the next government after elections on April 9.

Screen capture from video of Blue and White candidate Gabi Ashkenazi at a party event in Rishon Lezion, March 11, 2019. (Channel 12)

At the same event, Ashkenazi also responded to recently published transcripts from investigations ten years ago when he was under suspicion of obstruction of justice and of delivering classified information to journalists in an alleged effort to influence the appointment of his successor.

He retired from the military in 2010 after becoming embroiled in the succession scandal, though the case against him was closed in 2016 due to lack of evidence.

In transcripts published by Channel 12 news on Monday evening and last week, Ashkenazi was asked by investigators whether he had threatened to “straighten out” journalists or had stated that he has a “dark side.”

“They are smearing us,” Ashkenazi said at the Tuesday meeting. “They are finding all kinds of recordings from a decade ago. It is unpleasant, it is embarrassing, but I know the truth. I simply know the truth. And when I am in my private space, in my office, when I speak with my friends, it is like my tent. So sometimes I also said things in anger, unpleasant things.”

In a response to the reports, Blue and White denied that there was any bad blood between Ashkenazi and Nissenkorn, denying as well that the latter had been promised the Finance Ministry.

“Nissenkorn is an important social leader,” the party said in a statement. “During his tenure there were no major strikes in the economy. The cooperation in Blue and White is excellent and there is much mutual respect between Ashkenazi and Nissenkorn. Despite the spin [spread] by Netanyahu, who’s under pressure, at the moment we are not in the process of assigning [cabinet] portfolios.”

Although Blue and White is leading in the polls, it is expected to struggle to cobble together a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. The ruling Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is seen has having a better chance of forming a government by relying on other right-wing allies and religious parties.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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