Meretz Lawmaker Rejects Merger With Ehud Barak Over Violent Events of October 2000

As Meretz launched its new campaign ahead of September 17 election, Arab MK Esawi Freige invoked Barak's involvement in the violence of October 2000 ■ Chairman Nitzan Horowitz: We are in talks with everyone

MK Esawi Freige of Meretz in the Knesset in 2015.
Emile Salman

Meretz Knesset member Esawi Freige rejected the possibility that his party would join forces with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s new party, Democratic Israel, ahead of the September 17 election.

Freige called on Barak to pull out of the race in light of the events of October 2000, during which Barak was prime minister and 13 Arabs were killed and hundreds wounded by police violence in protests against land confiscation.

“Do us a favor. Save your apology. Return to your luxury towers and let us do the work, don’t get in our way,” said Freige. “The Arabs don’t want to be a fig leaf and a lifesaver. We want to be partners.”

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Freige told Haaretz that he does not believe Barak has good intentions. “He served in [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as defense minister. If we team up with him, I would have to protect myself from being spat on in Arab streets.”

Despite Freige’s remarks, new Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz clarified that he does not rule out a merge with Barak. Horowitz said that Freige is an important representative of the Arab community and that “he said what he feels, and many agree with him.”

Horowitz added that “We are conducting talks with everyone, including Barak. We are doing so while placing the focus on [Meretz’s] principles and values. We are not anyone ruling out. It’s good these things were said, [since] they express the feelings of a wide group,” Horowitz said.

Earlier, Horowitz had said that Meretz was sharpening its platform due to what he called a vague political atomspher. He said the “political arena is erupting … We are talking to [Amir] Peretz and Labor, with Barak and others. These contacts will continue. I was the first to support running together. Tamar [Zandberg] called for it even before the election, but my responsibility is to be a clear voice that expresses our values.”

Despite her loss to Horowitz for the party leadership, MK Tamar Zandberg appeared at the launch event. “Meretz has two ideological, political and electoral assets that it brings to the public: A world view, values and principles – and a Jewish-Arab partnership … that is the first potential, ideological and electoral bridge,” said Zandberg.

MK Michal Rozin also spoke at the event. “We are going to increase the strength of Meretz and bring voters back home. The inflation of centrist parties allows many to come back and vote ideologically and not just strategically. Tens of thousands want to see us in the next government. Barak’s entry into the political arena is motivating voters. While stances are abandoned and a greater vision is forgotten, Meretz will remain with its values and principles,” said Rozin.

The new campaign, mostly digital, is meant to position Meretz as the leading party on the issue of religion and state, along with other social issues. The campaign slogan is “This time, Meretz,” aimed at bringing back those who voted for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party in the April election.

The campaign will kick off on Wednesday evening with other slogans such as: “Deri, Litzman – you won’t believe it but even the nonreligious have feelings;” “Gantz, Lapid – It turns out that Arabs live here too;” and “Smotrich – Nothing will help you, LGBTQ people want a family too.”

Horowitz said about the campaign that while everyone is busy with political gossip, “we want to address the substance and content of things. The entire public is confused. The debate is only over [Knesset] seats. No one says what the goal and purpose is. Our goal is equality and freedom for citizens. So we are emphasizing these values now, at the beginning.”