Israel's Left-wing Meretz Party Seeks to Run Second Arab Candidate on Slate

Mazen Ghanaim, former mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of Bnei Sakhnin soccer club, says he’s mulling the offer

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Meretz lawmakers Tamar Zandberg and Nitzan Horowitz at a party conference, December 2019.
Meretz lawmakers Tamar Zandberg and Nitzan Horowitz at a party conference, December 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Meretz is seeking to raise its appeal to Arab citizens by adding an Arab candidate to its party list for the next Knesset elections.

The party is negotiating with Mazen Ghanaim, a former mayor of Sakhnin, to reserve the fifth slot on the party’s list for him, one place behind former MK Esawi Freige. Meretz wants to strengthen its image as the party promoting Jewish-Arab cooperation and hopes to gain two Knesset seats from Arab voters.

If Ghanaim agrees, he is expected to join the list not as a Meretz member but as a representative of the Arab Democratic Party, founded by former MK Abdulwahab Darawshe.

Ghanaim, who once served as chairman of the Bnei Sakhnin soccer club, told Haaretz: “At this point I’m not saying a word. I took time out for one week. I’ll be wiser in a week’s time.”

Ghanaim was placed third on Balad’s ticket in the previous election, but after the party merged with the Joint Arab List in August he was allotted the 13th slot and decided to step down.

It’s too early to say how another Arab candidate in a slot with a good chance of getting into the Knesset will affect Meretz’ future cooperation with MKs Stav Shaffir and Yair Golan, the party’s prospective partners in a proposed renewal of the Democratic Union slate for the March election. Party activists have recently called to push Shaffir and Golan down from the second and third slots on the list, after it transpired that they didn’t increase Meretz’s power in the last election.

Earlier this week Meretz’s convention decided to freeze the party’s ticket and set up a negotiation team to examine continued cooperation with the Green Party and Democratic Israel, as well as the possibility of joining with the Labor Party.

Meretz members are furious with Shaffir, who said that if she fails to persuade the left-wing parties to unite, she would run independently as head of the Green Party. A Meretz official told Haaretz: “We must act with responsibility. All these splits and divisions are unnecessary. They cause damage to the entire camp.”

The attempts to add Ghanaim to the ticket are meant to repeat Meretz’s achievement in the Arab communities in the April election, when it ran with two Arab candidates in its opening five – Freige and Ali Salalha of Beit Jann – and gained its first Knesset seat from the Arab voters. Following Meretz’s merger with the Democratic Union, Salalha resigned from the ticket with anger, after being pushed down to the 20th seat, where he did not have a chance of entering the Knesset. Freige, who was in the sixth place, didn’t make it into the Knesset either.