Bye Bye Gabbay. No Labor of Love

  1. Gabbay: “The left have forgotten what it means to be a Jew…”                                          Netanyahu two years previously: “The people of the left have forgotten what it means to be Jewish…”
  1. Gabbay: “Settlements are the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism…”                        Netanyahu two years previously, “We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle…”

Every business leader knows, in fact every newbie MBA student knows, that successful marketing is built on differentiation. For someone who was the head of Bezeq, it is weird – almost inconceivable that this basic rule was not only ignored as elections approached, but broken. The closer it came to elections, the more Gabbay took control of the narrative in contradiction to his leading Knesset members behind him, trying to be more Likud than Likud. So, in point 1 above, he alienates the vast body of Labor voters from previous years. In point 2 he reaches out to the non-existent “base” of right wing undecided voters, and in doing that confirms their fears, thereby intuitively moving them to Likud, considered more reliable in this respect, and simultaneously confusing the bulk of labor voters. And the strange thing is that on multiple points including the above, he had previously made worthy statements both on complex matters of a potential peace process and on the threat to Israeli democracy. These were lost in the polemic as elections approached.

Gabbay didn’t have a clue, and as elections loomed larger, his ego and delusional behavior became more apparent. On the advent of Blue and White as a new party with powerful momentum, his public statements and appearances were a cringe-inducing embarrassment and only the old hard-liner stalwarts remained loyal – not due to him or his attempt at leadership, but to the most profound, hard-working, members of Knesset who showed clarity of vision, political skills and clear goals over years of diligent stubborn thankless work in Israeli legislature.

I attended a small meeting here in my home-town of Kohav Yair a short while before the elections where several outstanding Labor candidates and members of the Knesset spoke. Each one of them presented excellently. Those serving have a record of real achievement, steadfast social and political views and an ethical compass that is rarely found in Israeli politics. When asked about the crisis of leadership and how Labor intends to manage that situation, the answer was in general that “..we have the most outstanding members of the Knesset compared to any other party, and we have the proof and results to show. That is why you need to keep Labor as a meaningful force in Israeli politics….”

All correct, of course. But unfortunately, Gabbay by that time had become Labor’s largest liability. Gabbay may still have pulled it off were it not for the horrendous ego-inspired nightmare of the publicly targeted hit against Tzipi Livni, his partner and the head of the opposition. Even Netanyahu, Sharon, Olmert and other leaders have never publicly humiliated a comrade or partner in this fashion, resembling figuratively a Mafia hit. Neither Livni, nor MKs present were aware that Livni herself was about to be fired from her position and booted out of the partnership with Labor, at a press conference in front of the nation. It was ugly, it was embarrassing, and the stench lingered and still lingers around that incident. ‘Not qualified to lead’, was my thought, and I believe it was that of many others who were happy to see the emergence of Blue and White with a solid revered leader at its head.

Can Labor make a come-back? Once again it depends on leadership and the manner in which the leading forums of this party conduct themselves. This has been the thorn in the side of Avoda that’s afflicted it for decades. Something is wrong in the culture and internal workings of this party which seems to be in a permanent state of self-destruct and carries several major handicaps. It appears that they will never be corrected. These are: 1. Shameful attitudes and abuses during the early days of statehood towards Jewish immigrants from Arab countries; 2. The disastrous errors of judgement leading up to the Yom Kippur War; 3. The blind refusal to create an inclusive body of politicians coming from a new generation of Israeli leaders born and raised in families from Sephardi backgrounds; 4. The disastrous events following the Camp David talks between Barack and Arafat, and the errors of judgement in the handling of this crisis. While this party, in essence, created the state, led Israel through wars and won, created a miracle from scratch, took Israel out of the unending Lebanon debacle and forged a road to peace, none of this is remembered fondly. The bad moments, whether they were the foolish words such as “We will screw you” (courtesy Motta Gur 1981, with the insinuation that those who oppose Labor are rabble and will suffer defeat as Arabs) or the arrogance leading up to the Yom Kippur War, or the Second Intifada and the scars that remain to this day, will never be forgotten. Any weak attempts at bragging about a “Mizrachi” leader such as Gabbay have no weight. Let’s recall that all the Likud leaders from Begin all the way to Netanyahu are bona-fide Ashkenazis. This isn’t about where they come from. Its about what they stand for. And in the category of inclusiveness, Labor has lost.

Is there any hope at all for Labor? As some say politely when preferring not to rule out a harsh truth, “Let’s think about it?”

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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