Israel's Left-wing Party Meretz May Forgo Primary, Aims to Secure Arab Candidates

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz at the Knesset, Jerusalem, December 2020.
Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz at the Knesset, Jerusalem, December 2020.Credit: Dani Shem Tov / Knesset Spokesperson's Office
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Meretz members are working to secure committee backing for a slate of candidates that sources told Haaretz would include two highly placed Arab candidates, in lieu of holding a primary ahead of the March 23 general election.

Haaretz has learned that the negotiations to reserve two slots for Arab female social activists began recently.

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Party members speaking on condition of anonymity told Haaretz it could be difficult to reach a consensus in the event that a “heavy hitter” candidate were to challenge Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz for the leadership role. No one has come forward yet, but the deadline for submitting candidacy will only be set this week.

Former chairwoman Tamar Zandberg is said to be undecided about trying to mount a comeback, and has previously said she would vie for the party's top position again only if she would be able to realize her vision of a joint Jewish-Arab movement and increased involvement in the party's activities and institutions by Arabs.

Former Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 22, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Lawmaker Yair Golan, who formally joined the party only this month – he ran on the Meretz ticket in the last election but was not a party member – said before the Knesset dissolved last week that he would support Horowitz in the event of a primary.

The schedule is tight: All of the parties must submit their final slates to the Central Elections Committee by February 3, and if Meretz does hold a primary it would have to take place at least 10 days before that deadline.

In any event, the primary would be a rather limited event. If the efforts to secure a consensus fail, the party’s 1,000-strong central committee will select the chairperson and list of Knesset candidates. According to a source in Meretz, the committee is unlikely to choose a slate that is markedly different from the one it put together in the last round of elections.

“There’s no point in holding internal elections by the same body that will yield the same result,” the source said, adding that the lockdown that begins on Sunday at 5 P.M. and is scheduled to last at least two weeks was also a factor.

“What’s needed is to make the slate more diverse, to reach agreement on the candidates who will be given reserved slots and to avoid a primary,” the source said.

The party’s central committee is scheduled to convene next week to determine how to proceed. It’s still too early to tell whether the party, which contains only three Knesset members, will run independently, or as part of a broader electoral alliance as it did in the previous two general elections: as part of the Democratic Union in September 2019 and of Labor-Gesher-Meretz in March 2020.

Party officials believe the dive in the polls by both Kahol Lavan and the Labor Party will bolster support for Meretz and allow the party to increase its strength if it runs on its own this time.

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