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Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabai speaking at Ben Gurion University, Monday, Nov. 13

Here’s why Benjamin Netanyahu should be worried about the next elections in Israel, which the local media have already predicted would be set to May, 2018: both his major rivals have been courting rightwing Jews. Yair Lapid, Chairman of Yesh Atid, has been wrapping himself in a talit at the Kotel and staging love-ins with religious Jews; and Labor’s new chairman, Avi Gabai, has been moving in the same direction. A few weeks ago, Gabai stated that should Israel have peace with the PA, there would be no need to remove Israeli settlements from Judea and Samaria, because, hey, in peace time we’ll find peaceful solutions, certainly less radical than uprooting close to half a million Jews.

And on Monday night, the chairman of Labor, a.k.a. the Zionist Camp, told an assembly of students at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva that “the left forgot what it is to be a Jew.” He said this in response to a question from the audience about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks in late cabalist Rav Kaduri’s ear in 1997. Back then, it was considered the ultimate chutzpa on Netanyahu’s part, to suggest only rightwingers remember their Jewish roots. Now, suddenly, this is part of the left’s agenda.


“We are Jews, living in a Jewish state,” Gabai said, adding, “I think one of the Labor Party’s problems is that it has distanced itself from that. Netanyahu said in 1997 to Rabbi Kaduri, and the TV camera caught it. He told him, ‘The left has forgotten what it means to be a Jew.’ You know what the Left did in response to this? Forget what it means to be a Jew.”

“It’s as if they say, ‘We are now only liberals,'” Gabai went on, suggesting, “It all begins with our Torah, our halachas, and the basic things. We should be proud of it.”

In a political field in which Netanyahu is under daily attacks not just by the media but by a tenacious police investigation of between four and six criminal cases against him, the prime minister may lose some of his halo as the unbeatable, constant leader. Eventually there may be voters at center-right looking for an alternative that won’t involve cowering to international pressure about Jerusalem and the settlements. Add to that the fact that Habayit Hayehudi appears to be chipping at Netanyahu’s right flank and the PM could be facing a perfect storm.

Gabai’s statements Monday night were attacked by tweets from Labor MKs such as Ksenia Svetlova and Micky Rosenthal, but neither actually attacked the gist of the chairman’s argument. Both, in fact, declared that despite their being liberal, they see no conflict between those values and traditional Jewish values. But while Labor MKs did not specify what kind of Jewish values they embrace, Meretz MKs Zehava Galon and Michal Rozin made clear in their tweets: anything but Orthodox.

So that, come next elections, in an effort to unseat Netanyahu, the left will now make Jewish ideology the hottest topic of debate. Is the Jewish State also an Orthodox Jewish state? This could get interesting.

There was one more refreshing statement from Chairman Gabai Monday night, when he was asked if he would be ready to serve as number two in a government headed by Yair Lapid. It was a loaded question because, in the past, Labor, together with Lapid’s and Moshe Kahlon’s factions were debating running as a leftwing coalition – and the talks collapsed over who would lead.

“A prime minister is a means to change the state, not a goal in itself,” Gabai said Monday night. “Of course I could be number two. If you choose me, I’ll be number one, if you do not choose me, I will not be number one,” he said.

Like we said, Bibi could be in trouble next elections.



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