Analysis: Israel’s New Labor emerges victorious

What does the future have in store for the new head of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay?

Avi Gabbay (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avi Gabbay
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A generation ago the Labour party in England had become a party of losers with very little hope, until Tony Blair took over its leadership in 1994, rebranded it as New Labor, and brought it to victory three years later.
Gabbay wins Israeli Labour Party leadership (credit: REUTERS)
Labour remained in power for 10 years under Blair, and an additional three under his successor, Gordon Brown.
Avi Gabbay will try to mimic that success with the Israeli Labor party, which has not been in power since Ehud Barak lost to Ariel Sharon in 2001.
It will be a difficult challenge.
Labor has lost confidence in itself after losing election after election and throwing out multiple party leaders. Even after Shimon Peres won an election for president, his former party retained its image as a lovable loser.
The first step will be remaking Labor’s image as the main party in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after former chairman Isaac Herzog was not seen as effective in that role, abdicating it to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
It will be especially hard for Gabbay to remain in the public eye, because he is not a member of Knesset and does not receive the stage that the Knesset regularly provides. At least he will be able to speak at weekly faction meetings and will not have to rely on Facebook to approach the public, as have former ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Moshe Ya’alon.
Labor under Gabbay will fight Netanyahu on both diplomatic and socioeconomic issues, and perhaps also on matters of religion and state. However, Gabbay has made a point in recent interviews of not wanting to be judged in comparison with Netanyahu.
Gabbay wants to focus on building Labor by remaining in the field, as he did during his campaign, and reaching out to sectors that Labor has not attracted in recent years. He already proved successful in beating the establishment in Labor, and the Histadrut Labor Federation that backed his opponent, MK Amir Peretz. Gabbay did that despite only joining Labor six months ago.
When asked who better resembles French President Emmanuel Macron – Gabbay or himself – Lapid mocked Gabbay on Monday, saying, “You cannot run in the oldest party in Israel and say you are the new and fresh thing.”
Gabbay can only hope he can sweep the country off its feet the way Macron did. He will have to learn from both Macron and Blair to succeed.