TEL AVIV – Business executive and former Kulanu minister Avi Gabbay won the Labor party’s primary Monday, beating former party leader and defense minister Amir Peretz to become the new chairman.
59% of party members voted, with newcomer Gabbay taking 52.4% of the vote compared to Peretz’s 47.6%.
“You put your hope in a new leader and here I am before you,” Gabbay said in his victory speech, in which he urged his defeated opponent Peretz to stand by his side.
“Today a new path begins. The path begins now. The path leads to a new government,” he continued. “This path is for everyone. This path is for all the citizens of Israel.”
“My only concern is the good of the people, the good of the country,” he said.
Gabbay addressed Peretz, saying, “I see you as a central partner in our mission – replacing the Netanyahu government.”
Former party leader Isaac Herzog, who was knocked out of the running in last Tuesday’s vote, congratulated Gabbay despite having supported Peretz.
“I just spoke to Avi Gabbay and congratulated him on his impressive campaign,” tweeted Herzog. “I made it clear to him that I will stand beside him and help him strengthen the Labor Party and change the government. I wish him good luck.”
While Peretz is a veteran lawmaker, Gabbay has minimal political experience. In May of last year, Gabbay quit his short-lived stint as a minister in Netanyahu’s government in protest when the Yisrael Beytenu party joined the coalition.
As such, Gabbay’s victory drew comparisons to French president Emmanuel Macron, also a newcomer to the political scene.
Gabbay, a self-made millionaire and former head of the Israeli telecom company Bezeq, will take up the post of party leader immediately even though he cannot become leader of the opposition since he is not a sitting Knesset member. He has said that Herzog will keep that post for now
The left-wing Labor party, which has been torn apart by internal strife – particularly following party leader Herzog’s secret talks to join Netanyahu’s coalition last year – has had much of its voter base switch camps to the centrist Yesh Atid party.