Israel needs Meretz more than ever. With prospects for peace receding on the horizon, Israel needs a peace party like Meretz. When the rule of law is under attack, Israel needs a party of law like Meretz. When the rich do as they please in this country, Israel needs a social-democratic party like Meretz. When the prime minister surrenders unconditionally to Shas, Israel needs a secular party like Meretz.
Even those who are not comfortable with every jot and tittle of the Geneva Initiative ought to hope that next week's Meretz leadership primary renews and strengthens Israel's human rights party.
Meretz's current situation is not bright. The party that was once chic and popular has, over the years, become gray and dusty. The party of radical youth has become established and calcified. Premature aging overtook this party of the sane left.
It lost the fighting spirit that was its heart and soul. It lost its relevance and immediacy. It lost its ability to offer real tidings to the young, the subversive, the Greens and the seekers of justice. Therefore, if it does not choose wisely next week, Meretz is liable to turn into a pocket edition of its elder sister, Labor.
The Meretz establishment believes that the best person to rehabilitate the party is Haim (Jumas) Oron. Yossi Beilin, Shulamit Aloni and Amos Oz all announced their support for him yesterday. Oron is indeed a worthy candidate - judicious, responsible and pleasant-mannered. He is someone whom everyone loves to love.
But is Jumas really the man of principle who can reignite Meretz's fire? Does Oron offer the new face that will win the confidence of the young and compete with the rise of the Greens? The man who, together with Haim Ramon, dismantled Hevrat Ha'ovdim (the Histadrut labor federation's holding company) is more establishment than any member of the ruling establishment. His virtues are those of Labor's top brass, not those of the leader of a radical, value-based party that needs a fresh spirit.
Zahava Gal-On is the opposite of Oron. Not everyone loves Gal-On. Gal-On does not wrap the country's leaders in cotton wool; she fights them. Yet in an era of debased politics, she proves, day after day, that a different way is possible. Gal-On (like Shelly Yachimovich) has an anatomical part that most of the men in the Knesset lack: a spine.
And where there is a spine, there is also a voice. A voice that speaks out for the rights of women, Palestinians and foreign workers. A voice that speaks out against those who corrupt and are corrupted. A voice that speaks out for the rule of law and against those who assail it. A voice that spoke out against the last war and against the government of cynics that is liable to drag us into the next war.
Meretz members must be honest with themselves: They do not currently have a single leadership candidate who is capable of restoring the party's past glory. Only a joint leadership of Oron and Gal-On is capable of doing the job. And because the establishment will put Oron on top, the rank-and-file membership must ensure that Gal-On is there as well. Without Gal-On's moral compass and strong voice, Meretz will not find its way.
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