AVI GABBAY (center) and his Labor colleagues celebrate on primary night.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
The Labor Party has many rights in Israeli politics. This is the party that established the Jewish state and led it in times of war and peace. The party’s leaders for generations, such as David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Yitzhak Rabin, were at critical crossroads in Israel’s history. Thus, no one disagrees that Labor played a significant role in shaping the State of Israel.
However, on the threshold of the 2019 elections, after more than 70 years of parliamentary activity and 37 years of leading the state, there is a high possibility that Labor will not pass the threshold and will cease to exist. The latest polls predict four to six seats for Labor in the upcoming elections. There are already those who cry for a union in the Left camp between Labor and Meretz – which is also in danger of not crossing the threshold – in order to save the Left parties from total political annihilation.
This anxiety is substantial. Whether a tight race between Likud and Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party is expected in the final weeks of the elections, the latter is expected to take additional seats from parties in the left-center bloc, in particular from Labor.
The Labor Party is in a severe leadership and ideological crisis. As a result, the Israeli public no longer regards it as a ruling party. While in the 1990s, Labor won 44, 34 and 26 mandates, the goal now is survival. Two decades ago, Labor had a clear central agenda on security and economic themes. It was one that could contain the entire center-left bloc, and it was a magnet for chiefs of staffs, IDF generals, and heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet General Security Service. Today, however, Labor is a left-wing party in every political sense.
In contrast to the Likud Party – whose top 10 list comprises a popular prime minister, serving ministers, a former Shin Bet chief, a former senior IDF general, and a former Jerusalem mayor – Labor’s members chose a left-wing list without a single prominent security figure. In fact, the Labor list for the 2019 elections appears to be a sister list of the Meretz Party, a fact that only emphasizes a political union between the parties is a natural outcome.
ALTHOUGH HE had a significant role in the deterioration of the party, Labor chairman Avi Gabbay is not the main culprit in its dismal situation. Given that after his election as chairman in July 2017, the polls predicted Labor would get more than 20 seats, Gabbay did not succeed in creating a public agenda that would challenge Benjamin Netanyahu, who for his part made a political school for Gabbay.
Eventually, the Labor chairman became an irrelevant political figure. And in his desperate attempt to attract votes from the right-center parties, he made political statements that were not natural to hear from a left-center candidate. As a result, his statements only pushed Labor into single digits in the polls. Recently, Gabbay chose to dissolve the partnership with Tzipi Livni’s party in a disrespectful way. That partnership, under the leadership of Isaac Herzog, brought Labor 24 seats in 2015, its highest since 1999. Practically speaking, Gabbay’s shameful act proved that the current Labor Party chairman is an inexperienced politician who is driven by ego rather than common sense. Hence, he is unsuitable to lead the State of Israel.
But the main guilt does not lie with Gabbay. It seems the main culprits in Labor’s situation are those party members who chose Avi Gabbay to lead them. Together with MKs who supported Gabbay’s candidacy, led by Shelly Yacimovich, members of the Labor Party did not realize that the voters from the left-center political spectrum were thirsty for a leader with a security background, one who could challenge Netanyahu’s premiership. Instead of bringing a figure with a security record – such as former chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, who surveys explicitly showed to be the hopes of the center-left camp – Labor chose an average candidate to lead them, one who is not a real candidate for the prime minister’s position. Worse still, it seems that Labor has chosen its last emperor.
Like many Israelis, I deeply regret that the Labor Party has reached the end of its path. Despite the joy and happiness that prevailed in the party primaries, it appears when the results of the Knesset elections are announced, only sadness and grief will dominate in the party’s election headquarters. Historically, the essence of the Labor Party was to compete for Israel’s leadership. Yet nowadays, when it no longer pretends to be a ruling party, Labor is actually irrelevant.The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.
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