Israeli Left-wing Leaders Tell J Street: We're Committed to Replacing Netanyahu

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and his handling of the coronavirus crisis, in Jerusalem, in January.
A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and his handling of the coronavirus crisis, in Jerusalem, in January.Credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Several leading Israeli left-wing politicians on Sunday told the J Street 2021 National Conference that they remain committed to replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's prime minister and ending the nation's political crisis.

Addressing the pro-Israel, left-wing Jewish organization's 12th annual conference — all virtual this year due to COVID-19 — Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh all drew comparisons to the defeat of former U.S. President Donald Trump in the 2020 U.S. elections.

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None of the politicians mentioned Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett or Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid by name during their remarks, despite calling for an alternative to Netanyahu.

"The fact that there is a Labor Party that has seven mandates in this Knesset is already a sign of hope," Michaeli told the conference, crediting the organization for helping bring democracy back to the U.S. during the 2020 presidential election and providing the center-left camp in Israel with inspiration.

"I am here today to promise you that we are taking Labor back to the Yitzhak Rabin path, back to the commitment to peace, back to the commitment of finding a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, back to the struggle for equality for justice and for a just society in Israel," Michaeli said, giving a special mention to Labor MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the first-ever Reform rabbi to serve in the Knesset.

Michaeli was also the only leader to address the Iranian nuclear threat during her remarks, decrying the current Israeli government for not doing what it needs to do in order to maintain a strong and important alliance between Israel and the U.S.

Odeh told the conference that Israel, more than ever, finds itself at a crossroads between a future of occupation and war, and a future of peace, democracy and equality for all. He highlighted the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and progressive American politicians who have managed to push the nation toward being a more inclusive democracy.

"We must be brave enough to look at the structure of supremacy that aims to enforce inequality between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Between occupiers and occupied. Between those in power and all of us, denied power because of our race, our gender, our religion, or our nationality. And we must dismantle them," Odeh said.

Odeh notably did not mention United Arab List party leader Mansour Abbas during his remarks, though he did specify that the Joint List would not abandon its principles for a government that will not address its basic needs.

Horowitz emphasized the need for a renewed peace process during his remarks and highlighted the rise of the "neo-fascist" Religious Zionism party, slamming them as people "who advocate the supremacy of the Jewish race" and calling them "a threat to our democracy, a threat to Israel's national security." He said a new Israeli government, alongside the Biden administration, should lead an effort to revive negotiations with Palestinians toward a two-state solution.

"The danger to democracy, as you witnessed yourself in Washington recently, is very real," Horowitz said. "Let us walk together, progressive and pro-peace Israelis and Americans in Israel and in the U.S., so we can strengthen each other."