Emboldened Labor and Meretz Nix Last-minute Merger, Hoping Both Will Get Enough Votes

Parties plan to run markedly different campaigns to distinguish themselves from each other, as latest polls find both with enough support to enter the Knesset in Israel's March election

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Labor Chairwoman Merav Michaeli speaks at a press conference alongside other party candidates on Wednesday.
Labor Chairwoman Merav Michaeli speaks at a press conference alongside other party candidates on Wednesday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Labor Party’s recovery in the polls and the buzz around its new slate for next month’s election may turn the heads of numerous Meretz voters as the deadline for submitting party lists approaches. A mass movement of voters to the rejuvenated Labor could endanger the small left-wing party’s chances of passing the electoral threshold. Despite this, Labor and Meretz do not intend to run a united ticket in this election, as they did in the previous one.

A Labor Party source described the first 10 names on the Labor ticket as “the left’s all-star list.” He said that along with Chairwoman Merav Michaeli, who has become a symbol of the feminist struggle, “There is a significant representation for women [50 percent of the list, with women in every other spot], there’s a Reform rabbi [Gilad Kariv, in slot 4], an Arab woman [Ibtisam Mara’ana, in the seventh slot, who left Meretz when that party supported Operation Cast Lead in Gaza] and a balance between leftists and more moderate figures.” Another activist argued that while the list could well draw votes from Meretz, “It’s missing significant figures from other areas of the Israeli public arena that could bring more varied communities.”

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Meretz believes its support is stable and that Labor’s attractiveness will wane as the election gets closer. “It’s clear that now there’s hype over the Labor slate,” said a Meretz source. “But we believe this enthusiasm is temporary. You have to remember what we’re talking about: Labor right now is celebrating the fact that it’s crossing the electoral threshold. It hasn’t become a ruling party.”

Two days before the deadline for submitting the party lists to the Central Elections Committee, polls showed both parties crossing the electoral threshold. “We’re not in competition with Meretz,” Michaeli said on Tuesday, as she presented her new candidates. “Meretz is an important party. It’s important that it continues to exist. Labor is returning to its original role: To be the centrist party in the center-left camp.”

Meretz chairman Nissan Horowitz did not seem concerned. “Meretz and the Labor Party were always close. Over the years we’ve cooperated many times. But they are two parties with a different character and different directions.” He added, “Of course, after the election we will cooperate and work to establish part of the government of change together.”

Michaeli and Horowitz plan to run decidedly different campaigns, to distinguish the parties from each other and to speak to their own audiences. Meretz is expected to focus on clear left-wing issues and make a meaningful effort to gain at least a seat and a half from Arab voters – an effort more likely to bear fruit if the Joint List breaks up. Labor will be gearing its campaign more to the center of the political map.

Both parties will be courting disgruntled Kahol Lavan voters, who over the past two years supported Benny Gantz’s party in the hope it would bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This time, activists in both parties say, fewer left-wingers will cast such a “strategic” vote – for Yesh Atid, for example – because Yair Lapid’s party isn’t seen as a potential ruling party. “The gap between Yesh Atid and Likud as of now is very large,” said a Meretz source. “Lapid isn’t seen in the polls as an alternative.”

Michaeli at this point will not declare Labor’s support for Lapid as prime minister, either. As unrealistic as it seems, she’s trying to create an image of Labor as a ruling party.

“It’s hard to imagine Labor as a ruling party, I understand that,” she said, as she presented her slate. “But that’s the path the Labor Party has started to tread again. I call on all Kahol Lavan voters who thought that they’d find the new Labor Party there, and were bitterly disappointed, to come home.”

Early submission of party slates to the Central Election Committee will reduce the chances for unions on the left and right.

On Wednesday the Central Election Committee will begin accepting the lists of party candidates for the March 23 election. Over the next two days, each party wishing to contend must present its list of candidates and choose the letters to be printed on ballot slips. Parties wishing to run together must complete negotiations by the February 4 deadline, in order to have that option.

For new lists, there is great significance in appearing early before the committee. The committee distributes the available letters for the ballot slips and the earlier party representatives show up, the bigger their choices. Yesh Atid, which for years has been running under the Hebrew letters “Pe” and “He”, has unexpectedly rushed to be first to appear before the committee. The reason is their concern that its letters, which were used last time when the party united with Benny Gantz, would be given to Kahol Lavan if that party showed up first. The rush to obtain attractive letters could seal the fate of potential unions. Any party that submits its list can no longer form a union with another party. If no agreements are reached in the remaining hours, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina; The Israelis, headed by Ron Huldai; Kahol Lavan under Benny Gantz and the Economic Party of Yaron Zelekha will remove themselves from the pool of potential partnerships by Wednesday night. If they don’t postpone their submission at the last minute, they can no longer link up to any other party.

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