Will Meretz Survive?

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An empty Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, March 17, 2015.Credit: Alex Levac

Once there was a party called Meretz. Will it survive? We did our level best, we served loyally, and if we betrayed anyone it was our own supporters. We always kept the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, in mind. The “transparent” people that Shas chairman Arye Dery failed to see at all, despite his party’s campaign slogan, Meretz always saw. We never fooled ourselves into thinking we would be rewarded in kind, since we never thought we were “doing favors.” We did our required duty in each of our positions, in the opposition and in the coalition, in the Knesset and in the cabinet.

We made mistakes too, of course. But not the kind that should lead to exile or disappearance. Despite all the difficulties and the setbacks, we persisted in going against the ill wind and swimming up the turbid stream. That’s not easy; if you’ve never tried it, you wouldn’t know. Just try it sometime. A few times we were advised to bend, or to straighten up, to adapt and join the national chorus. It didn’t suit us, we did not want to be off-key. That’s just the way we are, and if Meretz were to change its skin it would no longer be what it was, and would lose its purpose. After all, there’s no shortage of parties in the infinite “center” of the political map.

Once, many years ago, there was a terror attack in the Jewish Quarter of Hebron, with fatalities. I heard it on the radio as I was traveling to Jerusalem. My soul shrank before the victims, and I came to a decision: This time, when they ask for my reaction, I shall change my tune. This time I will speak of “Jewish blood.” When I entered the Knesset, Haim Yavin, at the time the Knesset correspondent for Channel 1 television, approached me and asked for “a few words.” I recited the accepted recitation, something about the price of blood. I too can say such things, not only Hanan Porat, the late settler leader and Knesset member. I too am a Jew.

I had appeared on television hundreds of times, but this time I was particularly tense. I sat down in front of the TV and waited impatiently for my own words. There I am, but where’s the blood, did I spill it in vain? Nothing was left of it. The next day I saw Yavin, and before I could speak he said: Yossi, I cut that bit, I watched it in editing and it didn’t suit you. To this very day I remain grateful to him, to Haim, for being a better judge than I and removing from my mouth the words I myself put in. Blood is blood, and there is no need to dilute it with nationalism. I once asked a hematologist if he could identify Jewish blood. He, as an expert, answered that there was no difference between blood and blood, neither in the laboratory nor in life.

We earned a reputation, far and wide, as “Jew-haters” and “Arab-lovers.” The time has come to show my true face: I do not love Arabs just because they’re Arabs, nor do I love Jews just because they’re Jews. I try to love people as human beings. And in my eyes, only a person who recognizes his fellow as a human being is himself a human being. I identify with and feel close to all earthly beings who aspire to rise above, who adopt similar principles. I don’t care where they come from, but I care very much where they are headed and to whom they are accountable.

For years Meretz searched its storehouses for the currency that is passed from the trader to the voter, it searched without finding hatred and fear, which are big sellers these days. Maybe someone should ask Bibi if he has some left over, because not too many people are buying what we’re selling just now.

When Meretz won six Knesset seats in the 2003 election under my leadership, it was a rather disappointing result. In the previous election, also with me as party head, we had won 10 seats. I did not feel culpable in the crash, but as party chairman I did feel responsible. My whole life I had exhorted others to take responsibility for their failures, and now it was my turn. Meretz has had three party leaders in the last decade, because they judged themselves harshly. They weren’t ousted, they stepped down voluntarily and made an effort to aid their successors. Can any other party claim the same? We shall come to miss it, and Zehava Galon as well.

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