Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay sparked controversy ‎on Monday when he asserted that the Western Wall does not ‎belong ‎only to Jews.‎

Addressing an American Jewish Committee conference ‎in Jerusalem, Gabbay said, “All of you, brothers and ‎sisters, ultra-Orthodox or religious, conservative ‎or reform, Christians or non-Christians—you are ‎all our brothers and sisters—and therefore, the ‎Western Wall belongs to all of us equally.””

Gabbay’s associates explained the faction leader ‎misspoke, saying that the statement did not reflect his ‎political position on the matter.‎

‎“The Western Wall is holy to Jews. It was never holy ‎to Christians,” one Zionist Union official said. “Christians were mentioned in the ‎speech because it was a Christian crowd of Israel ‎supporters. He had no intention of associating them ‎with the Western Wall.”

The political backlash was immediate, with many right-wing officials ‎criticizing Gabbay for trying to pander to left-wing ‎voters by making controversial remarks of this nature. ‎

In recent months, Gabbay has been sparing no effort ‎to shore up Zionist Union’s voter base. The ‎faction, comprising the Labor and Hatnuah parties, ‎has been steadily slipping in the polls, and its base ‎has significantly shrunk since Gabbay was named its leader in July 2017.‎

recent poll commissioned by Channel 10 News found that if general elections were held at this time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party would win 31 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 18 seats, Zionist Union (13), the Joint Arab List (12) and Habayit Hayehudi with 11 seats.

The Hadashot evening news reported on Monday that Gabbay ‎and the Zionist Union were behind a recent Facebook ‎smear campaign targeting Yesh Atid leader Yair ‎Lapid.‎

The Zionist Union issued a statement saying that “the Labor Party is ‎determined to win the next election and replace the ‎Netanyahu government. To that end, the election ‎headquarters periodically contracts external digital ‎media companies and consultants, just as every other ‎political party in Israel does.

‎“We are proud to have contracted the best and the ‎most talented people in the field. We are trying to ‎reach new audiences, especially younger audiences ‎that consume digital media. Our actions follow the ‎letter of the law and are monitored as required by ‎law. The nature of Lapid’s whining is unclear to us,” the statement said. ‎

A statement by Yesh Atid said, “The way Zionist ‎Union operates and the anxiety shown by Netanyahu’s office stems from the ‎fact that the public understands that the next ‎elections will be between Netanyahu and Lapid.‎”

‎According to the statement, “It is sad that the Zionist Union is wasting its ‎time and wasting public funds instead of pushing for ‎a change for the better in Israel.”