On May 14, 2015, the 34th Government of the State of Israel received the confidence of the Knesset by a razor thin margin of 61-59. In that vote the 24 Zionist Union MKs voted against the appointment of Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay. Following his surprise upset victory in the Labor Party primary Gabbay will now lead the faction that led the vote against the launch of his political career.

Gabbay wasn’t elected to the 20th Knesset or to any previous Knesset. He is a rookie politician with little experience. His political experience can be summarized in one sentence: He worked on the Kulanu campaign and afterwards was appointed as a non-MK minister in Netanyahu’s government. Of the three portfolios that Kulanu received in 2015, he was given the least prestigious. Gabbay was one of the least known Israeli Ministers. He was left out of the great majority of public polling that measured Israel’s top ministers. There was only one public poll that measured the public opinion of all Israeli ministers. Panels conducted it for Maariv & The Jerusalem Post, and it was published on March 18, 2016. It measured the grade of each one of the 19 ministers at the time on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of how well they did their job. Gabbay finished in the middle with a tie for 9th place and a 4.9 rating.

Many people only learned who Gabbay was when he resigned as minister on May 27, 2016, in protest of Yisrael Beitenu entering the coalition. Gabbay joined the Labor Party in late December, and less than six months later has just been elected to lead it. Gabbay defeated the entire establishment and party machine of the old guard. Gabbay closed the gap of a 1,746 vote deficit with the favorite, Amir Peretz, and defeated him by 1,346 votes. Of the 52,505 eligible primary voters, 30,998 voted in the first round and that number did not drop off in the second round with 30,916. Peretz only improved from 10,141 votes in the first round to 14,734 in the second round. Gabbay almost doubled his numbers from 8,395 votes in the first round to 16,080 votes in the second round.

Now the real questions start. Does Gabbay use his reserved slot in the next election to add his friend Moshe Yaalon, who opposes a two state solution, to the party? Can Gabbay maintain the existing alliance with Livni? Will Gabbay be able to successfully sabotage possible break-off attempts by various MKs? Will Herzog agree to stay on as Opposition Leader for the entire term or will he eventually leave over a future disagreement? If Herzog is removed as Opposition Leader, who replaces him? Will Gabbay be able to work together with Peretz? Despite the bad blood between them, would Kahlon agree to join a future Gabbay coalition? Would Lapid? Are this week’s favorable snap-poll results a sign of things to come or just a temporary artificial fluke? How will Gabbay manage to do all of that with such little political experience? Those questions will take time to answer.

We can start by exploring one question that we might be able to answer: How did Gabbay win?

Democratic primaries are a beautiful thing. It is a real pity that only three of the ten Knesset lists choose their leaders through primaries. Democratic primaries are the only system where each party member has an equal say in choosing their leadership and the direction of their party. It is also an unpredictable system where the entire leadership of a party can find themselves overthrown overnight. That is the reasoning of why seven of the ten Knesset lists object to the democratic primary system. The seasoned and experienced veteran can lose to the naïve and idealistic newcomer.

Amir Peretz is the most senior member of the Israeli Knesset, first elected to the Knesset in 1988. He emerged as the first round winner. For the second round Peretz picked up the endorsements of the first round’s third and fourth place finishers. Overall MK Peretz received endorsements from 10 MKs: Isaac Herzog, Erel Margalit, Merav Michaeli, Itzik Shmuli, Hilik Bar, Nachman Shai, Manuel Trajtenberg, Revital Swid, Eitan Broshi and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin. Additionally, Peretz had the endorsements of Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn, Jewish National Fund Danny Atar and many other external interest groups. He was clearly the consensus establishment candidate.

Omer Barlev, who finished in fifth place in the first round, decided not to endorse either candidate. Tzipi Livni and her MKs Eyal Ben Reuven, Ksenia Svetlova, Yael Cohen Paran and Yoel Hasson did not endorse either.

Gabbay finished the first round with the backing of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a candidate who withdrew (Aviram Levin) and two MKs Michal Biran and Yossi Yonah. He picked up five MKs’ endorsements for the second round: Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel, Stav Shafir, Micky Rosenthal and Zouheir Bahloul.

Gabbay pulled out a victory despite not receiving the support of more than two thirds of the Zionist Union Faction MKs and failing to receive the endorsements of the failed first round candidates. How did Gabbay leapfrog over Peretz? Was it really his last-minute endorsements? His highest profile allies Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel and Stav Shafir spent a large portion of Election Day in the Knesset and not on the campaign trail. Was it an anti-Peretz sentiment? Most people thought Peretz was going to win.

Perhaps the answer is that Labor voters decided not to be disciplined and instead of falling in line voted against the Zionist Union that they had chosen 28 months beforehand. Perhaps the Labor voters were happy to vote for an outsider that is not responsible for the past, is perceived as a centrist, and had a mediocre 4.9 rating out of 10. Perhaps the Labor voter wanted to send a message to the entire establishment and machine that the vote was actually against them, even if that means that the vote was for someone who until recently served as a minister in the Netanyahu government they want to replace.

Perhaps the Labor party members are done with the old Labor Party that no longer represented them and that is why they voted for a new Labor Party.

 
The “KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls” is currently averaging the seven most recent polls from July 2017: https://knessetjeremy.com/knessetjeremy-polling-average-the-israeli-poll-of-polls/

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