It’s possible, just possible, that the turning point took place when Knesset Member Erel Margalit asserted that Avi Gabbay was a Likudnik trying to wage a hostile takeover on the Labor Party. It was a pivotal moment. Margalit wanted to harm his rival’s chances in the Labor primaries elections, but did the exact opposite. Because if the party is really interested in a proper shakedown, there is nothing like a former Likud member to indicate a change. And so, it seems that the first thing Gabbay should do is send Margalit a large bouquet of flowers. The moment of confusion turned into a moment of upheaval.
Gabbay may have a political and social and economic program, but no one elected him for demonstrating some kind of social sensitivity. On the contrary, he comes from the Finance Ministry and from the world of business. For all intents and purposes, he is a capitalist. That’s not exactly the kind of experience that would make people like MK Shelly Yachimovich fond of him. Yet she and others have become his supporters and stood by his side. Why? Because in spite of everything, the Labor Party wants to live. It realized that things must change.
This is, admittedly, an unprecedented drama. Never before has a guest from “another planet,” or another party, performed such a quick takeover of an Israeli party that wishes to regain power. There is undoubtedly something about Gabbay, probably a trace of leadership, that contributed to this achievement.
It isn’t clear that something is really going to change. It’s clear, however, that if there’s a chance it will happen, only a serious turnabout will lead to a change. And with all due respect to MK Amir Peretz, who definitely comes with experience and abilities, most party activists see him as a symbol of the past. Gabbay’s victory is, therefore, a victory over the system as well, because most party veterans stood by Peretz. Which goes to show that if the party really wants a change, it must go all the way.
The voters who gave Gabbay the victory on Monday took a serious gamble. Perhaps even a too big of a gamble. After all, he only joined the party several months ago. After all, he sat in the Netanyahu government and I can’t remember him making any oppositional comment during his term. I doubt there’s a single person in Israel who knows his political opinions, beyond banal statements like “commitment to peace.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to peace too. Even Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is committed to peace. So what?
Gabbay has sat in a government that made decisions that were—how shall I put it?—odd and puzzling. He was a partner. He kept quiet. And he of all people has become the true Messiah? It only means that the party members are fed up. They are simply fed up. The vote contractors’ politics didn’t work; the desire for change did.
The advisors and commentators and experts have already begun offering Gabbay advice. Many of them will likely order him to demonstrate “decisiveness.” That’s a codename for a demand to go left, further to the left, to be able to “present an alternative” to the Netanyahu government. This “alternative” is presented by Meretz, as well as by the Joint Arab List. Does that attract a single voter from the centrist camp? No. It only drives the hesitant members of this political bloc away, which is why Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is growing stronger and the Labor Party is shrinking.
So in light of all the expected advice, let me share with Gabbay a top secret: Whoever sounds like Meretz and uses Meretz’s language will be as small as Meretz. The more you adopt clichés about “the occupation” and “fascism” and “silencing” and “the end of democracy,” the clearer it will be that like you jumped from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s party to the Labor Party, you will jump from the Labor Party to Meretz—if not physically, then ideologically. That’s the best way to turn the Labor Party into an alternative—to Meretz, not to the Likud.
Israel has a large public which is concerned about the crawl towards the binational disaster, on the one hand, but is also concerned about the illusions produced by the Left and by its tendency to defend—in the name of freedom of speech and democracy—every radical left-wing organization feeding the anti-Israel campaign. Labor Party members were in this place too many times in recent years. They managed to scare off even those who were supposed to support them.
Gabbay will have to take a new path. If he leans to the left, he will become the media’s darling, or at least a pretty large part of the media. If he leans to the right, he will suffer blows. Netanyahu is praying he’ll choose the first and easy path. If Gabbay wants to turn the Labor Party into an alternative, he shouldn’t give Netanyahu that gift.