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Israeli Labor Party members seek Gabbay’s ouster after on-air split with Livni

Labour party leader Avi Gabbay has dramatically split Israel's centre-left opposition ahead of an April 9 general election, breaking with veteran politician Tzipi Livni as their alliance languishes in the polls
MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP/File)
Veteran Labor lawmaker calls for Gabbay to step down as party popularity wanes in polls

Israeli Labor Party activists have begun collecting signatures in support of ousting their leader Avi Gabbay after he abruptly ended the party’s alliance with veteran politician Tzipi Livni and dismantled the Zionist Union faction.

The dramatic breakup, which played out live on television and stunned Livni as well as Gabbay’s own party-fellows, plunged Israel's opposition into further disarray as it struggles to mount a serious challenge to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing partners in the April 9 vote.

Polls conducted in the wake of Gabbay’s controversial move projected the Labor party earning only seven or eight seats in parliament if ballots were cast today -- a significant drop from the 24 seats the Zionist Union earned in the last elections.

With Labor’s popularity in the polls waning, MK Eitan Cabel warned Thursday that a "glorious movement" is in danger of vanishing adding that "in the business world [Gabbay] would have already handed over the keys."

Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin also told the radio station that “she would like to see [Gabbay] switched.”

The Labor Party responded to the internal criticism by saying that Cabel’s "subversion is nothing new."

AP photos

Labor Party lawmakers had been split on Gabbay’s on-air dismissal of Livni, and reportedly expressed concern that the faction was not consulted or informed of the decision before it was announced during a live televised press conference.

MK Shelly Yachimovich, who has been tapped to replace Livni as opposition leader, said in a radio interview on Wednesday that the move was “extreme” and “could be done in a different, more dignified way.”

Gabbay’s public ouster of Livni was reportedly deeply personal and appeared calculated to publicly humiliate the veteran politician. He invited only a handful of journalists to cover the press conference so as not to arouse suspicion of a major announcement and switched off his teleprompter so as not to alert Livni to what was about to happen.

In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday, Livni slammed Gabbay for his “petty and ugly” on-air dismissal saying it showed he lacked leadership.

“You can’t achieve leadership when you try to create public humiliation and score political points as a result,” she said, describing their dramatic fallout as “a petty and ugly incident the likes of which hasn’t been seen for many years.”

GALI TIBBON (AFP/File)

Livni slammed Gabbay for lacking political ideology and surprisingly appeared to levy the same criticism against former IDF chief Benny Gantz, who has emerged as a wildcard candidate since registering his new “Israeli Resilience” party to run in the April vote, but who has kept silent on his policy platform.

“I at least have an ideology, which I cannot say about the Labor Party chairman or about whoever tries to join politics on the basis of ‘I’ll say nothing and you will elect me,'” she said.

Gabbay, for his part, said that Livni had refused to rule out joining a future coalition led by Netanyahu leaving an ideological gap between the faction leaders.

"I won't enter a government headed by Netanyahu because he doesn't want to make a change. And Tzipi isn't there. She wouldn't say those things. It's a big gap," Gabbay told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

Gabbay's relationship with Livni has been strained since he inherited the partnership from the previous Labor leader, Isaac Herzog.

Gabbay's decision is the latest realignment ahead of the election and more are expected.

Read full Israel Election 2019 coverage here!

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