Avi Gabbay as enviromental protection minister.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay faced criticism from MKs in his party Tuesday for telling party activists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Monday that “the Left forgot what it means to be Jewish.”
Gabbay recalled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whispered that statement in the ear of the late Sephardi Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie and was caught on camera. That October 1997 incident caused a major political uproar.
“Do you know what the Left did in response [to what Netanyahu said]?” Gabbay asked a questioner at the event. “It forgot what it means to be Jewish. They said ‘they say it about us but now we are just liberals.’ It is not true. We are Jews, and we must speak about our Jewish values.”
MK Amir Peretz, who ran against Gabbay in the July 4 Labor leadership race, said he did not accept Gabbay’s analysis, noting that Gabbay was a newcomer to the party that he only joined last January after serving as a Kulanu cabinet minister in Netanyahu’s government.
“He sees things from outside, while we see them from inside the camp,” Peretz said.
Former Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said Gabbay was right in saying that Labor should express Jewish pride but said “Gabbay did not express himself properly.”
Zionist Union MK Miki Rosenthal wrote on Twitter: “I am left-wing. I am Jewish. And I don’t have a memory problem.”
Other MKs said worse things criticizing Gabbay privately but declined to say anything on the record, because they don’t want to harm his chances in the next general election.
“How long will we have to defend his remarks from the gut that are not properly thought out?” one MK said.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid responded: “It is good Gabbay is going to the Center, but he can do it without insulting people and telling them whether they’re Jews.”
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett wrote on Twitter that “Gabbay is masquerading as Lapid, who is masquerading as Netanyahu, who is masquerading as Bennett. So why don’t you be Bennett and that’s it?” Netanyahu adviser Yonatan Urich responded by tweeting that Bennett’s tweet displayed hubris and childishness.
Gabbay received praise from Shas leader Arye Deri, who wrote that he was right to say that they should not forget to be Jews. Deri, who like Gabbay is from Morocco, called him a word that means “one of us.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On said it is only Gabbay and not the Left that forgot what it means to be Jewish.
“There is no contradiction between Judaism and liberal values, and not every Jew is willing to bow to the haredi [ultra-Orthodox] or religious Zionist versions of Judaism,” Gal-On wrote on Twitter.
“The Left that founded [Gabbay’s] party once knew that.”
Meretz MK Michal Rozin said the Left knew better than Orthodox Jews what it means to be Jewish because “the Left is inclusive of all religious streams, and anyone who chooses to be a part of the Jewish community according to their path and beliefs.”
Gabbay also surprised people at the event in Beersheba when he revealed that he was willing to serve under Lapid if Yesh Atid received more mandates than the Zionist Union, in order to ensure that a coalition could be formed that is not led by Likud.
“I will do all I can to be number one, but if I am not chosen, I am willing to be number two to bring about change,” he said.
Asked on Israel Radio if he would serve under Gabbay, Lapid said: “When Yesh Atid wins, I will call upon Likud and Labor to form a national unity government because that is what the public wants. Until then, I advise politicians to stop dealing with themselves.”