Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli’s prime minister, signs an international agreement in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photographer: Erica Canepa/Bloomberg)

In Israel, Labor’s Political Divorce May Cost It Women's Vote

(Bloomberg) -- The head of Israel’s Labor Party may have thought his brutal rejection of a key female political partner on live television would silence critics who say he’s too bland and geeky to win a national election. It’s possible he miscalculated.

“Avi Gabbay and the Labor Party just lost the vote of every woman who has been dumped by a guy in a humiliating fashion,” tweeted Allison Kaplan Sommer, a columnist with the Haaretz daily. “And that’s a lot of women.”

In Israel, Labor’s Political Divorce May Cost It Women's Vote

Gabbay is a former business executive who served as environment minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative government before taking over the Labor Party in 2017. The woman he jilted Tuesday, Tzipi Livni, joined her Tnuah party with Labor in 2014 to form the opposition Zionist Union, and has vastly more political experience than Gabbay.

Yet it’s Livni who’s been more willing to recruit an outsider to head the bloc if that candidate has a better chance of unseating Netanyahu in April’s election. That led Gabbay to brand her as disloyal in an awkward news conference where he avoided glancing in Livni’s direction and she stared at her phone throughout, her face fixed in a grimace.

Analysts said Gabbay probably hoped Israelis would praise him as a “gever gever" -- roughly translated as a “manly man” -- for the bold move. Instead, he’s being portrayed as something of a cad.

“Is it worse to dump a woman via text message or in a press conference?” one Israeli woman tweeted afterward.

‘Me, Me, Me’

It’s not clear if, in the end, the incident will indeed cost Labor votes: Women’s issues traditionally have not been major factors in Israeli elections, and this campaign likely will focus on corruption probes of Netanyahu.

Yet Livni’s explanation for why the partnership didn’t work out -- Gabbay was all about “me, me, me,” she said -- seemed to resonate with women, who told Israeli media it sounded like their own failed relationships. Livni said she’s been inundated with messages of sympathy and support since the fateful presser, mostly from other women.

Appearing Tuesday night on Hadashot News, Livni said she didn’t know if gender considerations influenced Gabbay’s move -- then proceeded to play up the feminist theme.

“Time’s up,” she said, echoing the slogan of the movement for women’s empowerment in Hollywood. “The era in which a man can get away with publicly humiliating a woman is over.”

The early returns on Gabbay’s gambit aren’t good. Some Labor legislators have called on him to resign, and a new poll projects the party to win just seven seats in April’s elections, down from nine in previous polls (and 18 in the current parliament). Livni fared even worse: Tnuah was projected to fall from six seats to four, putting it perilously close to the threshold to enter the Knesset at all.

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