Fearing Election Wipeout, Israeli Parties on Left and Right Talk Mergers

Meretz weighs joint slate with Arab-majority party, while five right-wing parties are in union talks

Meretz party chairwoman Tamar Zandberg
Olivier Fitoussi

Left-wing party Meretz is in talks with Arab-majority parties over the possibility of running on a joint slate in Israel's September 17 election. 

Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh did not rule out Meretz lawmaker Esawi Freige's proposal to Hadash and Ta’al, but made it clear that before considering a linkup, Hadash has committed to its supporters to try to reestablish the Joint List, which ran in the 2015 Knesset election.

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In another development, five parties to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud party have been pursuing contacts about running on a joint slate in the election. The parties are Habayit Hayehudi, Hayamin Hehadash, Moshe Feiglin's Zehut, Bezalel Smotrich's National Union and Otzma Yehudit, the latter two of which ran together in April as the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

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Meanwhile, the Meretz party's constitution committee will consider a proposal to have the party run for the Knesset in the September election with the same slate of candidates that ran in the election last April. That election ended with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failing to form a governing coalition.

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, who held the top spot on her party's slate in April, has worked to keep the slate in place, according to party sources, but her associates said that she would accept any decision the party takes in this matter. The proposal will be brought to a vote by the party’s central committee in about a week and a half, but will face opposition from party members who wish to hold a new election for party leader.

Sources within Meretz told Haaretz that former Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz, who led the campaign to have Meretz run on a joint slate with the Labor Party in the April election, said there is some logic in running the same candidates in September. “The prospect of holding a full primary is not high. Under these circumstances, it would be unfair if the central committee, which has 100 people, would override decisions made by tens of thousands of Meretz members only a few months ago,with regard to the composition of the list of candidates,” he said.

In the Knesset election in April, Meretz finished with four seats, down from five seats four years ago.

On the right

In the election in April, a large number of the right-wing votes were lost when the leaders of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, broke with the party and formed Hayamin Hehadash, which then failed to garner sufficient votes to enter the Knesset. The current leader of Habayit Hayehudi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, and National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich oppose the appointment of either Shaked or Bennett to the helm of a right-wing joint slate, sources have told Haaretz, although they would consider allowing the pair to join Habayit Hayehudi.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked
Eliyahu Hershovitz

The inclination in Hayamin Hehadash appears to be neither to return to Habayit Hayehudi nor to dismantle their new party, but there does seem to be interest in running on a ticket involving an alliance of right-wing parties.

Associates of Bennett, who led Habayit Hayehudi before breaking with the party, said he is not interested in having a slot reserved for him on Habayit Hayehudi’s slate of candidates, whether he would be offered to resume the party leadership or not. One source added that Bennett wishes to stick with Hayamin Hehadash but would not rule out running as part of a “technical bloc.”

Asked if Bennett would agree to an alliance of the five parties even if he would not be offered the number one spot on the ticket, one source said, “First Bennett wants to see agreement on more important matters.” Another source said Bennett does not expect to head such a slate in any event.

Those on the right are waiting, however, to see what Ayelet Shaked’s next move is. The prospects that she would join Likud appear remote in light of opposition from Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. Earlier this week, Channel 13 reported that Sara Netanyahu flatly declared: “Ayelet will not be in Likud, period.”

Sources said that discussions between right-wing parties are in full swing, but nothing has been concluded and everything else is “spin.”

An Israel governed by Jewish religious law?

On Wednesday morning Naftali Bennett tweeted support for Smotrich, following Smotrich’s comments on the aspiration to have Israel governed by Jewish religious law. Following a backlash against Smotrich, who told Kan Reshet Bet radio that “Israel needs to conduct itself according to the law of the Torah as in the days of King David,” Bennett tweeted: “The attacks on Smotrich are political and I have no intention of joining them.”

Bennett added, using Hebrew wordplay, “The position of Hayemin Hehadash is simple: a state of inclusion, not halakha. A Jewish state, not a state of coercion. Bringing [people ] closer, not further apart. That is our way and we will present it in the election.”