Israeli Left-wing Leader's Bid to Bring Power to the People Faces Resistance From Old Guard

'We cannot continue choosing our Knesset representatives in a closed members' club,' Meretz's Zehava Galon writes on Facebook, making case for open primaries.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon, October 10, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Meretz party is deliberating whether to vote on a proposal to hold open primaries for party chairman and the Knesset list, even though the overwhelming majority of the party central committee opposes the idea. The vote would take place at the next party conference, scheduled for June.

There has been a stormy argument in the party over how to choose its next chairman and Knesset candidates. Its current method is to hold a vote among its membership every four years to choose the party’s central committee, which has 1,000 members. The central committee members are the ones who choose the party’s Knesset list. Over the years there has been criticism of the system, with opponents arguing that it creates a closed club where “a friend brings a friend,” and prevents the party from growing.

Party chairwoman MK Zehava Galon has long supported switching to open primaries. Galon would prefer a system whereby on the party’s election day, anyone could come, register as a party member, pay dues and choose candidates. In a Facebook post, Galon wrote, “Meretz, my political home, must change. We cannot continue choosing our Knesset representatives in a closed members’ club. Meretz needs open primaries. I am promoting this change and I need you with me.”

According to the post, “Meretz is the only party fighting to end the occupation, defending human rights, struggling for a just society and for the separation of religion and state. But its internal structure, which is concentrated in the hands of a few, doesn’t permit the party to innovate, improve and expand. If all we do is complain about it, nothing will change.”

Galon faces a dilemma, however, since the current central committee is heavily opposed to a change that would usurp its power to choose the party’s Knesset candidates. Another option would be to hold a vote for a new central committee, which would convene in October, in the hope that the new committee would make the change.

Meanwhile, arguments are raging within the party. Recently Yariv Oppenheimer, a former Peace Now general secretary and Labor party member, sent an email to every member of Meretz’s central committee saying he favored open primaries. In response, Meretz general secretary Mossy Raz said he would file a police complaint against Oppenheimer on grounds that he unlawfully obtained the members’ email addresses.