Three Labor MKs jump ship amid growing anger at Gabbay

Three Labor MKs jump ship amid growing anger at Gabbay

As embattled party leader seeks to shore up support ahead of elections, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Hilik Bar and Eitan Broshi announce they won’t seek Knesset reelection on Labor list

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay attends a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay attends a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Three Labor lawmakers on Wednesday announced they would not seek reelection in the party’s primaries for another term in the Knesset, amid growing opposition to Labor leader Avi Gabbay within the party’s ranks.

Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Eitan Broshi announced they would split from Israel’s traditional center-left party on Wednesday. They were later joined by Hilik Bar, who said he would still campaign for the party ahead of the April 9 elections.

After the elections, Bar, who said he was not leaving political life, said he would work towards a two-state peace solution with the Palestinians.

Unlike Bar, Nahmias-Verbin and Broshi explicitly blamed their decisions to leave the Labor list on Gabbay, who has sunk the party’s popularity to historic lows by dissolving the Zionist Union — a political alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.

“I’ll remain in the political arena,” Nahmias-Verbin said in a statement lamenting the Labor Party’s troubles. “Despite the great support I am receiving, my home is no longer the same home.”

Labor MK Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin speaks at the party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Nahmias-Verbin said Gabbay’s announcement to part with Hatnua — which he made on live TV in front of Livni without first informing her — was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and called it “strategic mistake.”

She said the “basic rules of political conduct” were ignored in the party she joined under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin more than 20 years ago.

“The current state of the Labor Party worries me a great deal, and there is a real fear that it will never return to lead the country,” Broshi said in a statement. He added that there was concern about Labor’s direction from supporters and lawmakers alike.

Nahmias-Verbin had clashed with Gabbay over the Zionist Union split, and publicly called on him to step down in favor of a candidate with a better chance of defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the next elections.

Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar attends a faction meeting at the Knesset, January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Broshi has also clashed with Gabbay, most publicly last August, when he filed a libel lawsuit against the Labor leader for calling him a “sex offender” and refused to back down from the comment.

Broshi was accused of two instances of sexual misconduct earlier in 2018, including an incident involving Nahmias-Verbin.

Gabbay had temporarily suspended Broshi, saying the Knesset was “no place for sex offenders,” and refused to walk back the remark even after Broshi apologized to Nahmias-Verbin.

Labor’s popularity has slumped since Gabbay surprise firing of Livni, with opinion polls projecting the once mighty political force to win just seven or eight seats in the April 9 elections. In the outgoing 120-member Knesset, the Zionist Union holds 24 seats.

Labor Party MK Eitan Broshi, of the Zionist Union faction, is seen during a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Last week, Gabbay was booed at a Labor event, as he sought to persuade his bitter and divided party that he can defeat Netanyahu.

Facing calls for him to step aside, Gabbay attempted to ignore the pandemonium and present himself as a credible alternative to the prime minister, whose Likud party appears on course to win reelection.

In response to the announcements by Nahmias-Verbin, Broshi and Bar, Gabbay tweeted Wednesday that Labor last month had signed up 4,600 party members and 40 candidates for its Knesset list.

He wished the three luck, and said he was “very happy” to see a renewal in the Labor Party.

Reports of possible political unification moves between opposition parties have swirled in recent weeks as party leaders seek to form a center-left bloc in a bid to unseat Netanyahu in April.

Surveys have shown former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s party would finish second to Likud in elections, though well behind it. They have also indicated he could pose a more potent challenge to Netanyahu’s ruling party if he were to team up with another centrist party.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay (L) announces the shock break up of the Zionist Union as his erstwhile partner, head of opposition Tzipi Livni, looks on, during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, Gantz is opposed to joining forces with Gabbay and Labor, in a bid to appeal to a more right-wing voter base.

In recent weeks, Gantz has reportedly held meetings with Livni, ex-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

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