MKs of Zionist Union Labor party at annual pre-Rosh Hashanah toast.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Labor Party conducted its annual pre-Rosh Hashanah toast in Tel Aviv on Wednesday in what its participants said was a positive atmosphere, but beneath the surface, MKs and activists said was a new nadir for the party that built the state.
Some 1,000 activists and the majority of the Zionist Union faction came. They heard party chairman Avi Gabbay criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, and Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon and repeatedly say Labor will win the next election.
“We will win and form the next government,” Gabbay said. “We will win because 14 years of Netanyahu in power is too many, and we won’t let it happen. We will win because we know that what is not done in 10 years will never be done.”
Gabbay then addressed his party’s internal problems, which have boiled over due to his insistence on four reserved slots on the Zionist Union Knesset list for candidates of his choice, another four that will be chosen by opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Gabbay’s announcement that he will make recommendations for the few remaining slots.
“We don’t have the privilege to fight among ourselves,” Gabbay said. “We cannot waste energy on infighting. Our battle is outside. We have to focus on winning. And to win, we need to unite in our home.”
But Gabbay did not say he would give up any of his reserved slots, which have led to a vocal dispute with MK Yossi Yonah, who was one of the first MKs to endorse his candidacy for Labor leader. When Yonah complained about the reserved slots Tuesday at an event honoring Labor MK Leah Fadida in Yokne’am, Yonah called Gabbay a bully.
In a dispute first revealed by Walla News, Gabbay told Yonah he would use all four slots on purpose in order to upset him if he kept complaining.
“The atmosphere was reasonably warm, but in the background, of course, there are serious problems that cannot be ignored,” one MK told The Jerusalem Post
. “Many MKs are angry about the reserved slots. With even more slots reserved for women and the secretary-general and a kibbutznik, there is almost nothing left to run for.”
Another MK told the Post
: “There is a worse internal atmosphere than ever. There is a feeling we are coming apart. There is no cooperation and there are bad feelings.”
Yet another MK said it was not just MKs who are angry but also “party activists are very upset and bitter, because it is their power to vote for MKs that is being taken away.”
Labor MK Hilik Bar, who was secretary-general of the party in 2011 when then-leader Ehud Barak left the party and took four MKs with him, said it was wrong to eulogize Labor then, and it would also be wrong now. He said he believes Gabbay will get the party going in the right direction.
“I was there when Barak tore us apart in 2011, when they said the party died and reporters said the final nail had been put in Labor’s coffin,” he said. “I said then Labor cannot be killed, and I say it now. Even if people feel uncomfortable, the only way is to unite. Tonight was optimistic and energized, and we were all together. This could be the turning point we have been waiting for.”
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