Labor activists on Thursday began to collect signatures from within the party to remove Avi Gabbay as its chairman, Israel Hayom has learned.

The move follows Labor’s consistently poor performance in the polls, and Gabbay’s decision to dissolve the Zionist Union faction, a political alliance with Hatnuah Party, headed by Tzipi Livni, which he apparently made without consulting anyone in Labor.

According to an announcement made in a WhatsApp group of Labor Party members, the plan is to collect 1,350 signatures and demand the party hold open primaries without anyone, including Gabbay, having their spots on the party’s list protected.

Labor has set its internal elections for Feb. 11.

In a conversation with Israel Hayom, Labor Knesset member Eitan Cabel alluded to the identity of one of the people who could be running for party chief.

“I agree with [former Prime Minister] Ehud Barak that we need a unity bloc to replace [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, and the move to dismantle [the Zionist Union faction] didn’t help,” he said.

“I met with Gabbay 10 days ago, and I told him, ‘Even if she [Livni] doesn’t help us, dismantling [Zionist Union] will only do us harm, and we saw that in the polls.”

In the WhatsApp group, party activists demanded Gabbay resign, warning that the party could do worse in the upcoming election than the bleak predictions offered by recent polls, which project Labor could win, at best, eight seats – a third of the 24 seats it currently holds.

One of the messages in the group read: “The conclusion is clear! If Avi Gabbay doesn’t resign, it [the party] won’t pass the electoral threshold and will become extinct. [Opposition Leader] Shelly Yachimovich will be the one who signed the death certificate. The situation is catatonic. We need to admit a mistake was made and fix it immediately. The solution: joining the [left-wing] bloc (unlikely) and mainly: primaries for the list and … [party] chairman.”

Israel’s electoral threshold stands at 3.25 percent, meaning a party has to win four seats to enter parliament.

“I grew up within the Labor Party. I worked with [late Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin, with [late President Shimon] Peres. I didn’t leave it for one day. I am not a celebrity or a temporary guest. I will not allow it [Labor] to be erased,” Cabel told Israel Hayom.

“I will either be in the Knesset or stay here in order to put the pieces back together because I believe that our path is the right one for the State of Israel, and we need to continue to unequivocally fight for it, without kissing up to anyone. We must not let the Labor Party die.”

Knesset member Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin also placed the blame for the party’s weak showing in the polls on Gabbay.

“Something happened in Labor. In order to be the ruling party, we need to speak realistically and pragmatically. Avi Gabbay has a responsibility to forge connections within the [left-wing] bloc, [this is] an approach I have had the entire time. He is a talented man, but he has a responsibility. And if he does not lead [the effort to make] connections, I personally would like him to be replaced. This is a move that should be done with him and not to him, but it might not help.”

Another Labor lawmaker calling for Gabbay’s removal is Yossi Yona.

“We need to ask forgiveness from [Gabbay’s predecessor] Isaac Herzog. Avi Gabbay cannot lead the center-left bloc. He needs to vacate his spot,” he told Army Radio.

‘You are not alone here’

Aybee Binyamin, a member of the Labor Party and one of the leaders of the effort to replace Gabbay as chairman, told Israel Hayom, “Avi Gabbay has failed. He destroyed the Labor Party. He is a cat in a bag brought in by Shelly Yachimovich and he is not a good fit. We must replace him immediately. We want to depose him.

“He conducts himself like a dictator and with him, we will surely lose. We don’t want to lose the elections. He was also elected illegally because he violated the primary law [that allocates 300,000 shekels, or $81,000, to candidates] by NIS 500,000 [$134,000]. He bought control with money. His appointment as party chairman was illegal. Gabbay had his chance and now he needs to resign.”

Labor Party members are set to hold a conference next week. The activists’ goal is to have one-third of all party members in favor of removing Gabbay from the office of chairman.

In an interview with Army Radio on Thursday, Cabel said: “Avi Gabbay needs to consider renouncing his place as party chairman. In the business world, he would have handed over the keys a long time ago. We must not let the Labor Party die.”

In a statement, the Labor Party said “Eitan Cabel’s subversion is nothing new. Cabel owns the record for zigzagging and with him, nothing is ever as it seems.”

Gabbay’s announcement that he was breaking up his party’s coalition with Hatnuah was made in a live press conference and clearly blindsided Livni. The move itself, as well as its method of delivery, infuriated many in Labor.

In a faction meeting earlier this week, Cabel said, “I don’t want to talk about your public shaming of [Hatnuah Party head] Tzipi [Livni] without her knowledge or our knowledge. I just want to say it was a mistake. You do whatever you want without consulting anyone. Who are you to decide for all of us? This party was established long before you came along, Avi Gabbay.

“I spent my entire life in this party, I grew up in it. This is not your private business. You are not alone here, and you cannot do whatever you want without first consulting [us],” said Cabel. “What are we, extras in your movie? This is your personal party? You think that this move will suddenly shine a light, and we will go back to 24 Knesset seats? You do not have the legitimacy to make that kind of a decision without asking us first.”