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Meretz Leader Zehava Galon's Resignation: Personal and Political

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Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The announcement by Zehava Galon – the most prominent left-wing figure in Israel today – that she is resigning from the Knesset shocked not only the media, the left and the general public but also some of her party colleagues, who heard about it only a short while before her statement was published.

With this radical step, Galon achieved her goal, at least in the short term, in phenomenal fashion: She became the top story and shook up everyone who is likely to influence Meretz in the future. From an internal party dispute, for which it’s hard to get up the minimal motivation required to understand, the Meretz saga, and, even more importantly, Galon herself, has become the topic of the day.

With this move Galon is demonstrating a brutal policy of “going all the way.” At a time when the left is being crushed by a wave of anti-democratic legislative proposals and the chairman of the Labor Party has suddenly remembered that he’s a right-winger uninterested in evacuating settlements, Galon had to deal with other things.

But the elections for the Meretz party convention are scheduled for next Thursday, and while Galon is indeed an honest, intelligent politician with a rare sense of humor, worthy of all the superlatives that anyone who knows her can unhesitatingly come up with, at the end of the day she’s a politician. To be more precise, she’s a politician who excels in last-ditch campaigns, like the one Meretz conducted before the last elections when the party was hovering dangerously near the electoral threshold.

Galon knows how to enthusiastically explain how Meretz needs to be refreshed, to open its ranks and conduct radical experiments like open primaries for the Knesset list, an idea that was rejected twice by the convention. It’s clear that there’s some justification for her claims. The fact that Meretz has been stuck for years with an embarrassingly low number of Knesset seats, and that people who could find their political home in the party are deterred because of various image problems, is certainly painful.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore something else that’s driving her, and it’s just as sharp and fiery as her desire to shake up Meretz – and that’s the desire for political survival. The many signs that the Meretz convention, which makes party decisions, is no longer in her corner, and, even more so, that the party at large with its 18,000 members is no longer in her corner, has led her to turn the open primaries idea into a life preserver.

Of course a person can change, as can his or her tastes, but Meretz’s closed club, which did away with primaries for the party leadership after the serious crisis under Galon’s predecessor Haim Oron, when the party had only three seats, didn’t seem to bother her when it chose her as party leader. Nor did she complain in 2015 when her leadership was reaffirmed by a show of hands after elections were suddenly called due to the dismissals of Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni from the third Netanyahu government. Galon’s critics even say she was one of the leading advocates of canceling the primaries in 2012. So at the very least, one can suspect that the reason for Galon’s change of heart isn’t just disillusionment with Meretz’s limited electorate and standing, but that it’s primarily over her waning chance of carrying on as Meretz chairwoman.

Galon wants another term as Meretz chairwoman, after which her associates believe she will leave politics. Her move on Wednesday proves she will do everything to realize this goal. The line between courage and despair is sometimes gray to nonexistent. Galon is now dancing around this line.

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