Former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay, who joined Labor only six months ago, swept the party off its feet and emerged victorious in Monday’s close runoff race against veteran MK and former Labor chairman Amir Peretz.
Gabbay won 16,080 votes, which was 52% of the vote, while Peretz won 14,734 votes, or 47%.
Gabbay dedicated his victory to “those who have eulogized the party, those who have given up hope, and those who did not believe a positive campaign could win.”
In his victory speech, Gabbay promised that Labor was starting a path on the way to a new government in Israel.
He reached out in the speech to Peretz and said he needed him by his side.
Gabbay criticized Netanyahu, saying an honest leader should not represent a submarine company.
When the results were announced, Gabbay supporters in blue shirts hugged each other and screamed the standard chant, “Ooh, ah, look who’s coming, the next prime minister!” The few Peretz supporters in the room wearing red shirts emblazoned with Peretz-style mustaches gloomily left the assembly.
Peretz called Gabbay to congratulate him and Gabbay said Peretz was his central partner in his mission of toppling Netanyahu.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak posted a video to Facebook, in which he said that due Gabbay’s victory, Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett were sweating.
“Avi Gabbay won because the public wanted victory and not just slogans,” Barak said.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni congratulated Gabbay and urged him to maintain the Zionist Union bloc, which she said created the hope that inspired the 24 MKs in the 2015 election.
“The joint goal that stands before us now is to create real, renewed hope to replace the government and present a different, better path to Israel and its citizens,” Livni said. “Now that Labor has completed its internal democratic process, we must turn to the public, widen our ranks, and become the address for the masses in Israel who believe in our ideology and want to replace the government.”
Outgoing Labor chairman Isaac Herzog, who supported Peretz, said he spoke to Gabbay, congratulated him, and told him that he would help him strengthen Labor.
He said he also spoke to Peretz and praised him for running an impressive campaign.
The turnout of 58.8% was considered surprisingly high, considering the heat wave that was expected to keep many Labor members at home. Gabbay sent text messages to voters all day, posted a video, and called a press conference urging them to come out and vote.
“High turnout will bring us to victory and a new start for Labor Party,” Gabbay said as he voted in Jerusalem. “A low turnout will lead us to what has been. Statistics can be beaten. It depends on all of us.
Don’t let the weather decide instead of you.”
Voting near his home in Sderot, Peretz said: “Tonight, when we know the results, we will begin the journey to replace Netanyahu and implement a new vision of social justice and peace.”
At the Knesset, rival party leaders presented an atmosphere of business as usual, and claimed that the Labor race did not matter to them.
“I don’t really care who will win in Labor,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told The Jerusalem Post. “For two-and-a-half years, the real political rivalry has been me against Netanyahu, Yesh Atid against Likud. The problems of Labor are not our problems.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he had no opinion on the race and wished well to all sides.Kayla Steinberg and Nicole Bauke contributed to this report.