Israel Election: Ex-general Wants to Lead Left-wing Meretz Party and ‘Build a Proud Zionist Left’

Announcement comes a day after Esawi Freige says he won’t run in the upcoming election, while party members are hoping Zehava Galon will return

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Yair Golan in Tel Aviv, Wednesday.
Yair Golan in Tel Aviv, Wednesday.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan announced on Wednesday that he planned to challenge Nitzan Horowitz for the post of Meretz party leader, saying his goal was “to build a proud Zionist left."

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Horowitz said he welcomed the challenge. Meanwhile, a number of party leaders are seeking to convince Zehava Galon, who was the party’s chairwoman from 2012 to 2018, to return to the helm amid surveys showing the party winning just four Knesset seats, down from its current six. But Galon told Haaretz on Wednesday that she had no plans to seek party leadership.

The party’s elections committee is set to meet in the next two weeks to set a date for a leadership primary and decide on its slate for the upcoming November election.

Golan, a former deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, said his goal was to “combat the corrupt and messianic right.”

”I am running because six years ago, in a speech that the right chose to distort, I warned against brutality and corruption. These processes enable horribly cynical or messianist politicians to dismantle Israeli society, and incite one group against another in order to gain more and more power, money and honor,” Golan said.

“We cannot take lightly those of [former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s actions that are not being tried in court – he has a major role in public corruption and the nationalist extremism we are experiencing,” he added.

“A short time spent in the Knesset is enough to understand where this group is dragging us all against our will and our values. Nationalism and messianism must be confronted with a political force that does not act politely, one that works consistently and courageously and brings change,” he said.

Saying that he supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Golan stated that “I was personally involved with the occupation, I understand what it is to maintain control over a hostile population over a long period. We must separate from the Palestinians by agreement, and that agreement is about two states.”

Golan’s announcement came a day after Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige, a longtime lawmaker representing Meretz, said he would not run in the upcoming election. In an interview Wednesday morning with Kan Bet radio, Freige said Golan “doesn’t have the Meretz DNA” and called on Galon to return to the job of party leader.

Nitzan Horowitz at a Meretz meeting, May.Credit: אוהד צויגנברג

“She’s the only one who can unite the ranks inside Meretz and ensure that Meretz remains alive and kicking,” Freige said. “Golan can’t unite all the forces inside Meretz … along the way, he has said things that aren’t in line with the Meretz worldview.”

Freige also criticized Horowitz, saying he had failed the test of leadership. In an interview with Channel 12 News, he praised Horowitz as a man of values, but added: “He brought us six seats but didn’t know how to hold onto them. Nitzan failed the test of leadership.”

Freige said Horowitz “can be a great lawmaker, an excellent party member, and he has values, but a leader he is not.” About Golan, Freige said that “he’s a good guy, a hardworking guy, but he isn’t part of the real Meretz.”

Golan has drawn criticism over several statements over the past several years. In a speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, he said he saw parallels in Israel to developments that occurred in Europe before the Holocaust.

“If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance, it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016,” he said at the time.

In January, in the wake of several attacks on Palestinians by settlers and the smashing of gravestones in Palestinian cemeteries, Golan described settlers living in Homesh as “subhuman.”

“Do we damage tombstones? Is this what we’ve come to do? These are not people, these are subhumans. Despicable people and who corrupt the Jewish people,” he told the Knesset Channel at the time.

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