Israel's Left-wing Meretz Party Votes Symbolic No Confidence in Leader

Nearly 55% percent of convention vote to shorten Zehava Galon's term as chair, but measure falls short of 60% needed to pass

Meretz chairperson Zehava Galon voting at party convention, Sept. 17, 2017.
Moti Milrod

Meretz leader Zehava Galon beat back an attempt at Sunday’s party convention to shorten her term, but only because the measure needed 60 percent to pass. A solid majority of the roughly 1,000 members present, 54.5 percent, voted to move up the elections.

“This evening I’m a little less proud to open the Meretz convention,” said convention president Uri Zachi, who opened the debate. “Our leaders have not been able to come to a compromise and have entrenched themselves in their positions. We have too important a role to tear ourselves to shreds. All Meretz supporters would be happy to skip this vote.”

The resolution to truncate Galon’s term was first raised by Avi Dabush, who is No. 8 on Meretz’s Knesset list. Dabush and his colleagues were forced to alter their original proposal when they understood it wasn’t likely to pass. Even after the resolution was updated, Dabush acknowledged that its chances of getting the necessary 60 percent vote weren’t strong.

Dabush had first wanted to hold elections for party chairman when the term of the current Meretz convention (which is akin to the Likud Central Committee) ends on October 26. His reasoning was that the party had to start organizing itself for the next general election. Galon, whose term as party chairman is meant to end in January 2019, objected to the proposal to shorten her term, claiming it was unconstitutional, and waged a legal battle in the party’s institutions. At first the party tribunal agreed that the proposal violated the party’s constitution, but in a second hearing it reversed its ruling by a vote of 4-3.

On Thursday Dabush and his group of Galon opponents decided to change the resolution, realizing they would not be able to remove Galon as chairman next month. The new proposal calls for elections for a new chairman to be held by February, with the exact date to be determined by the new convention. Over the weekend Dabush told Haaretz, “It will be hard to get 60 percent,” in favor of the resolution, but he was optimistic. Even if between 50 percent vote in favor, it will be considered an achievement for the opposition.

MK Ilan Gilon, who has announced that he will challenge Galon for the chairmanship, opposes the resolution, arguing that the issue should be dealt with only in the next convention. Nevertheless, his associates are working to persuade party members to vote for advancing the election.

In conversations with Meretz colleagues, Galon is trying to persuade members that this is a resolution aimed at her personally. In a letter she sent to convention members, she wrote, “The original resolution that convened the convention urgently demanded shortening the chair’s term and snap elections by the current convention, on the grounds that Meretz must be prepared for elections now (even though I was chosen to serve until January 2019), and that there’s no time to wait even a month-and-a-half until the new convention can convene.

“That lie has collapsed,” she continued in the letter. “Suddenly it isn’t so urgent for the current convention to choose a new chairman quickly. But it is urgent to make decision during the current convention, a moment before we choose a new convention. That’s what’s left from the talk of having to be ready for elections: small-minded gutter politics.”

According to Galon, “This convention, which is about to run its course, doesn’t have the moral authority to make such decisions for the next convention. The message is blunt: Meretz is afraid of its members, and the promise that joining the party will give members the power to influence is a false promise.”

Dabush said over the weekend, “Advancing the Meretz elections is necessary if we want to organize for the general elections and create a Meretz that’s large and influential. This is not an ouster. All the legal tricks aimed at preventing a democratic decision didn’t work, and the fear campaign will also fail.”

But even if the resolution passes, the next convention, which will meet in December to consider proposals to change the internal party election system, could still reverse it.