Meretz May Hold Closed Primaries to Choose Next Party Leader and Knesset Members

Israel's small left—wing party is fractured internally but hungry to gain seats in next election as main rival stumbles in polls

Meretz leader Zehava Galon at a central committee voting stand, July 2, 2017.
Moti Milrod

Meretz, an Israeli left-wing political party, is close to reaching an agreement on holding primaries for the first time. The proposal is to hold closed primaries, with only party members eligible to vote, for the chairperson and Knesset candidates.

Recent polls have projected Meretz gaining seats at the expense of the center-left Zionist Union bloc, should an election be held soon.

The comprise idea emerged after a fierce battle within the party. Zehava Galon, the party chairperson had threatened to resign as party leader (she resigned from the Knesset in the fall)  if it did not accept her proposal for open primaries in which non-party members could also vote. The compromise is being negotiated between Galon and MK Tamar Zandberg, and would allow Galon to compromise, not resign and then run again for the party leadership.

Meretz does not have a regular primary system and its Knesset slate as well as leadership positions are elected by a 1,000-member central committee that is chosen in an open vote of party members. 

The party’s central committee is scheduled to meet in less than two weeks, on January 7, and vote on the proposal.

The question of holding primaries, and in what form, has split the party into two camps: Galon on one side and MK Ilan Gilon on the other.

Gilon, who is competing with Galon for the leadership post, is especially popular among Meretz’s younger members – and opposes any change in the present system of party elections.

Zandberg also has significant support in the central committee and her supporters may serve as the balance of power between the two rival camps.

For now, four of the party’s five MKs have agreed to the proposed compromise – except for Gilon.

Zandberg and Galon have not expressed support publically, but are seriously considering it.

Despite Gilon’s objections, the closed primaries proposal will most likely pass the central committee.

No other party has ever held open primaries of the form Galon is seeking, in which two weeks before the primaries anyone can sign up as a Meretz supporter (without becoming a party member) and vote in the primaries. The central committee has rejected Galon’s proposal twice in the past.

Any change in how the primaries are held would require a 60 percent majority in the party’s central committee.

Galon feared she could not gather such a supermajority for her original proposal, but it is expected that the compromise plan could win a majority.

Recent opinion polls suggest a possible redistribution of votes on the left, with Avi Gabbay’s center-left Zionist Union bloc losing Knesset seats and Meretz picking up seats at its expense. For example, a poll conducted this month by Channel 10 News shows the Zionist Union falling from 24 seats today to only 17, while Meretz would was projected to jump from five to seven seats.

Another poll conducted a few weeks before the Channel 10 poll showed Meretz with eight seats if the elections were held then.