The chairman of Meretz, Haim Oron, is retiring this week after 23 years in the Knesset. Highly respected and well-liked virtually across the political spectrum, Oron is retiring when his movement and the entire Israeli left are at an unprecedented nadir. He leaves behind a tiny Knesset faction, of just three MKs, which has never been so small, and a shrunken Zionist left that is trying, at the moment unsuccessfully, to find its way ahead. Together with the fractious Labor Party, this vacuum on the left should trouble everyone who values peace and democracy. The weakness of the left, of which Oron was a leader, stands out even more in light of the right's ever-increasing strength and the nationalistic, racist and anti-democratic legislation that it is proposing almost unhindered in the Knesset.
In an interview in Friday's Haaretz Magazine, Oron had some tough things to say against Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whom he called "the most dangerous man in Israel." Such remarks by the usually restrained Oron should echo powerfully. In addition, the interview revealed the helplessness and hopelessness of the left that Oron once championed.
His accusations against Barak - and the belief that his actions were alone responsible for bringing disaster down on the left, put in sharper relief the failure of Oron and Meretz to voice a clear-cut alternative and encourage the growth of a significant political movement in the face of the murky right-wing wave that threatens to flood the country. The fact that Oron focused in his work mainly on economic and social issues, and that the fight against the occupation was secondary, for him and his movement, only worsened the sorry state of the parliamentary left.
On his retirement, Oron is to be congratulated for his extensive parliamentary work, his integrity and his pleasant manner. But the Israeli left is now in desperate need of a new path forward and new leadership. Oron himself tried before the last elections to establish a new framework for the left, but his attempt met with utter failure. And so, Oron's retirement should mark the beginning of a new political path for the left, one that will manifest itself by a determined stand on principles.
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