Meretz's position during the war in the south is no reason not to vote for it. If anything, it's a badge of honor for the party and its leaders, another one of many reasons to vote for the party in the upcoming elections.

"The State of Israel has the right and the duty to see to the welfare and the security of its citizens," said party head Haim Oron during the special Knesset debate two days after the outset of the military operation. "This does not mean use of all available force, or justification of every action carried out in the past 48 hours," he continued.

Meretz's opposition to the ground operation was immediate and vigorous, and stated that "the Lebanese quagmire will be considered shallow compared to the anticipated quagmire in Gaza. A ground operation and entry into Gaza contradict a basic Israeli interest."

Meretz could have tried to find favor in the eyes of its electorate and express opposition to any military operation. But in the complicated situation of prolonged firing into Israeli territory by Hamas, Meretz did not abandon the residents of the south, even if they are not its natural electorate, and its stance, like the situation, was complex. For its responsible and balanced behavior Meretz is now paying a high price, although this behavior should actually have been rewarded by a large number of votes.

But the voting in next week's elections cannot be based solely on a war in whose conduct Meretz - as opposed to Kadima and Labor - was not involved. The voting must also deal with the diplomatic horizon, human and civil rights, education, health, the environment and the structure of Israel's constitutional regime. We can regret the fact that in all these spheres, without exception, Meretz may be the only place to turn.

The last Knesset was characterized by an attempt to overturn Israel's constitutional achievements and an undermining of the principle of the rule of law. Meretz's five MKs, along with a small number of others, mostly from Labor, defended the law enforcement system and the Supreme Court from unbridled attacks by the government.

Meretz initiated the law prohibiting human trafficking, which makes it possible to take action against those who traffic in women as well as aiding migrant workers and preventing trade in human organs. It expanded eligibility for public housing; increased legal aid to the poor; strengthened the Israel Consumer Council; and in a first reading passed legislation to expand the basket of state-subsidized health services, in opposition to the government's position. All this in addition to a Sisyphean struggle against legislation that undermines human rights, such as the "Shai Dromi law" that allows householders to kill a burglar even when human life is not in danger, and the amendment to the Citizenship Law that prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from living in Israeli territory.

In addition to the substantial amount of legislation, which is difficult to promote from the opposition benches, Meretz MKs acted together, alongside a few other MKs, to protect refugees from Sudan and grant them rights. Meretz was the only party that spoke out clearly to protest ongoing harm to Israel's homosexual community and supported the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.

And if all that were not sufficient, Meretz has remained the only possible way to vote because it was the only party to declare that it would not join a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu. After Lieberman, with the support of Kadima and Labor, sought the racist and antidemocratic exclusion of the Arab parties, he is clearly a real threat to anyone for whom a Jewish and democratic State of Israel is important.

Labor chairman Ehud Barak, who wants to lead the peace camp, does not rule out sitting in the same coalition with someone who wants to abrogate the citizenship of Israeli Arabs. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who aspires to be prime minister, will not be able to fulfill her wish without bringing in Yisrael Beiteinu.

Any vote for a party other than Meretz in effect means appointing someone who constitutes a genuine threat to Israeli society as a "senior minister" - as Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu promised.

The war in the south may be a problem from the past. Lieberman is definitely the black stain of the future. I'm voting Meretz.