French President Emmanuel Macron and Labor party leader Avi Gabbay.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avi Gabbay threw the Labor Party into the international spotlight with his shock victory over Amir Peretz in Monday’s leadership primary.
Gabbay is a fast-paced newcomer on the political scene who made his millions as CEO of telecommunications company giant Bezeq. Naturally, many have drawn the obvious comparison to French President Emmanuel Macron and his victory over Marine Le Pen in May’s presidential runoff.
As a new member of the nation’s largest left-wing party – Gabbay joined Labor six months ago, having previously helped to found the center-right Kulanu – many did not expect Gabbay to defeat the veteran Peretz for the Labor chairmanship. Though Peretz’s leftist views mean his ideology is worlds apart from that of the far-right Le Pen, Peretz is a veteran politician; he is the longest-serving member of the Knesset, and began his political career in 1983 as mayor of Sderot. Likewise, Le Pen’s political career began in 1986 when she joined the Front National, founded by her father, Jean-Marie.
Meanwhile, both Gabbay and Macron have political careers that are less than a decade old. Gabbay entered the political sphere after departing Bezeq in 2013: he served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s environmental protection minister from 2015 to 2016. Macron was deputy secretary-general in president François Hollande’s first government from 2012 to 2014, then as minister of economy and finance until August 2016.
Before Macron embarked on his political journey, he worked as a senior investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque. However, Macron began his career as an inspector of finances at the French Ministry of Economy from 2004 to 2008. Quite similarly, Gabbay’s first professional position was at the Finance Ministry, before he left to join Bezeq in 1999.
Reconstruction of their respective countries’ politics is a touchstone of Gabbay and Macron’s strategies; both have founded parties. Gabbay, along with Moshe Kahlon and Orna Angel, founded Kulanu in November 2014, though Gabbay later joined the Labor Party in December 2016. In April 2016, Macron founded the progressive-centrist En Marche! (Onward!), which now has an absolute majority in the National Assembly with 308 seats. Gabbay hopes to lead the Labor Party back to power, aiming for triumph over Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud.
Anti-establishment fever is dominating international politics, so it is no surprise that these two rising figures are riding its wave. In Gabbay’s victory statement on Facebook Tuesday morning, he emphasized his vision to replace Netanyahu’s regime and make Israel a place that values all opinions, beckoning citizens to join him in “reconnecting” the country. Macron sent a similar message in his own victory speech, prioritizing the reunification of France and declaring that “a new page in history has been turned.” Coming from an upper-class family and boasting a top-notch education and rapid career success, Macron used his membership in the elite to appeal to voters: He knows what the system is like from the inside, and because of this, he believes it’s time for change.
In the personal realm, Gabbay and Macron are both married to strong women who have influenced them greatly. Gabbay’s wife, Ayelet, is a teaching coordinator and English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school. Brigitte Trogneux Macron is also a teacher, though retired: In fact, she was Macron’s teacher when he was in high school, sparking controversy during her much younger husband’s campaign.
When Macron prevailed over Le Pen in May, Gabbay voiced support for the new president: he praised his quick rise from anonymity to prominence, and said that Macron “represents a new hope.” Considering the striking similarities between them, will Macron speak out in favor of Gabbay for prime minister in the next Israeli general election? It does not seem unlikely, but November 2019 is a way’s away – and Gabbay must prove himself as an effective Labor leader first.
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