Skip To Content
Israel News

New Israeli Opposition Leader Plays It Safe In First Speech To American Jews

Avi Gabbay was a newcomer to Israeli politics when he stunned the country by winning the Labor Party’s leadership primary last July. For American Jews, Gabbay is still an unknown — he came from the world of business, where contacts with the world’s largest Jewish diaspora community are not a top priority.

Taking the stage at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, Gabbay sought to introduce himself by projecting a mainstream worldview, tilting carefully to a dovish stance, but carefully remaining within the Israeli security-minded mainstream.

“We will never compromise on the security of our country,” Gabbay told the 18,000-strong gathering, vowing that if elected prime minister, he will enforce an “aggressive security policy.”

American Jews used to recognize Labor as the party of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who made solving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the party’s top agenda item. Gabbay offered the AIPAC crowd a different vision. In the eyes of Labor’s new leader, advancing peace is just one important issue, sandwiched between taking a tough stance on national security and promoting the country’s economy by narrowing societal gaps.

“We must separate ourselves from the Palestinians,” said Gabbay. “My parents left a Muslim-majority country to live in a Jewish-majority country.”

But the Labor leader stopped short of offering a peace plan or proposing a possible Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Instead, he floated a set of trust-building measures: The Palestinian Authority would stop making payments to terrorists, and Israel would impose limitations on the expansion of Jewish settlements. “We must stop building caravans on hilltops and glorifying remote settlements, because they do not provide any security value to Israel,” he said.

Gabbay steered clear of directly challenging the Israeli government on the issue of the conflict. He also passed on an opportunity to criticize his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is involved in multiple corruption investigations. Instead, Gabbay made only veiled mentions, saying that Israel needs an “economy clear of corruption” and that the people of Israel are “better than some of the news coming out of Israel these days.”

While not directly taking on Netanyahu in front of a pro-Israel Jewish audience, Gabbay tried to engage the crowd with his own personal life story, which stands in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s silver-spoon upbringing.

Gabbay grew up in a family of ten living in an asbestos-packed cabin in a poor neighborhood of Jerusalem. “I was ashamed to tell my friends where I live,” Gabbay said.

He spoke of his parent’s journey from Morocco to Israel, in which they “achieved their Zionist dream.”

And he provided listeners with a rags-to-riches story they could take home with them: His father worked for years as a repairman for the country’s telephone company. Twenty-five years later, Gabbay become the CEO of that same firm, now Israel’s largest telecom business.

Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected] or on Twitter @nathanguttman

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we still need 300 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Only 300 more gifts needed by April 30

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.