Left-wing Meretz Party Tries to Woo Back Voters With New Campaign

Polls show Meretz barely reaching the electoral threshold. With a new slogan and hopes for 'upheaval,' the party hopes to bring change

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg at the party's campaign launch, March 11, 2019.
Nir Keidar

Seeking to boost its poor showing in opinion polls, the left-wing Meretz party unveiled a new campaign strategy on Monday, including a new slogan: “There can be no change in government without Meretz.”

The slogan suggests that while Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party may head the centrist bloc, Meretz would be the party needed to set the proper tone in any Gantz-led coalition.

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said at Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov that she would demand the education and justice ministry portfolios as the price for joining any center-left coalition after the April 9 election.

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A Yedioth Ahronoth poll found that Meretz would win five seats in the Knesset if the election were held now, while a Haaretz poll had Meretz teetering on the edge of just four seats, which is the minimal number the party would have to win to stay in parliament.

Gantz’s party appears to be luring many Meretz voters, in addition to some from Labor as well.

“When we talk about upheaval, we immediately think that the intent is to unseat Bibi,” said Ofer Sheetrit, Meretz’s campaign director. “But in most of the focus groups, people kept saying that 'upheaval' is renewal and changing values –  and not politicking. If we want to bring about real change, it cannot happen through a center-right coalition, but only with a strong left that is changing values and direction.”

Meretz’s campaign signs will demand raising stipends for the disabled to the minimum wage, additional budgeting for hospitals instead of yeshivas, to permit civil marriage in Israel and resume diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians.

“Every vote from the left for Gantz is a vote that brings no real change,” MK Ilan Gilon said. “A government without Meretz, without the left, that doesn't change priorities or put the individual at the center, is not a government of upheaval. Therefore there will be no upheaval without Meretz.”

Meretz refers to centrist parties as the “okay people.”

“They are not messianic, racists or Kahanists, but they aren’t those who would strongly stand up against these forces. They need a serious push for reinforcement, in order for there to be change,” Zandberg said.

Explaining why Kahol Lavan needed more of a push by the left, Zandberg noted how former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a candidate on Gantz’s slate, has promised to move a million more settlers to the West Bank, and Zvi Hauser, also of Kahol Lavan, contributed much to the nation-state law.

She also cautioned against moves by Gantz and Yair Lapid to seek a joint government with Likud after the elections. “Unity with whom, is the question. With Dudi Amsalem, whose political ideology means threatening state's witnesses? With Miri Regev, who has made an art out of incitement and censorship? With the Likud, which has turned itself into a nest of corruption, and devotes all its energy to bringing supporters of Jewish terrorism into the Knesset?”

Meretz’s own polls show that 74 percent of its voters are motivated by ideology, while the remaining 13 percent would vote for them primarily to topple the current government. The opposite is true of Kahol Lavan supporters: 73 percent say they are voting for Gantz and Lapid to change the government, and only 16 percent cite ideology.

Zandberg once came under attack on social media on Sunday; detractors accused her of being a traitor for her recent talks in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.