Israel’s Labor Party must decide what it stands for before the next round of elections. Without a true vision for the country, there’s really no reason it should win.
Avi Gabbay, the new head of Israel’s Labor Party, appears to be plotting a master strategy for winning elections, with laser-razor precision.
A largely unknown candidate, he is certainly aware that his first headlines will set voters’ image of him for years. His statements from the last few weeks leave little doubt about the first thing he wants them to know: I am no leftist.
First, he said Israel can have peace without dismantling settlements like Eli and Ofra—hard-core messianic settlements known for their ideology as much as their geography, deep inside the West Bank. Then he insisted he would not enter a coalition with the Joint List, the merger of three Arab parties. And this week, he lamented that the Left has been too committed to its liberal ways, at the expense of its Jewish heritage, reinforcing the notion, rather unique to Israeli Jewry, that the two are mutually exclusive.
It’s clear what he is trying to say, but it isn’t clear why Gabbay, the great blue-and-white hope of the Israeli Left, has taken the oldest and most brittle page from the dusty book of failed Labor strategy: convince right-wing voters to support Labor and shun the Left to win elections.
Far from a display of cunning strategic innovation, the move has been tried many times and failed just as many. Labor’s previous leader, Isaac Herzog, was the latest victim. In the 2015 campaign, certain advisors told him to beef up his security image, cutting an ad highlighting his military service in Israel’s intelligence and surveillance unit, and putting up billboards with giant, close-up photos of him squinting into the sunset. The colors and the crows’ feet were photoshopped; voters were derisive. In my day job as a pollster, I worked on that campaign. I always thought it was a mistake to try and out-security the Right.
Previous leaders fared no better. In 2013, Shelly Yachimovich dealt with the stigma of leftism by ignoring the conflict—she didn’t win. In 2006, Amir Peretz tried to prove his security mettle by accepting the post of defense minister, which nearly ended his career. In between, the great security symbol Ehud Barak briefly returned to lead the party, and in 2009...Read More