Moshe Klughaft managed to lead Meretz’s new chairwoman astray in a variety of ways, thereby dragging many of her supporters in the party into a whirlwind of recriminations and a crisis of confidence. Aside from Tamar Zandberg’s severe moral lapse in making use of the dirtiest political consultant in Israeli politics, and aside from the lies she told to hide this Machiavellian consultancy from Meretz voters, she also suffered from an excess of naïvete, if not worse, when she assumed that Klughaft himself wouldn’t reveal their connection as soon as doing so served his interests. Like now, for instance, when he’s seeking to promote a television series he wrote.
This lesson must be thoroughly learned by all those who were persuaded to believe that gutter politics as practiced by Benjamin Netanyahu and his people could produce good results. In contrast to this manipulative view, if the way of the wicked prospers, it’s not just because they behave with ample cunning and malice, but because weighty economic, social and cultural factors effectively stand behind this politics and drive the public’s behavior.
Zandberg could have fomented a generational revolution in Meretz even without Klughaft’s tricks. And this is precisely where she and her advisers made their biggest mistake. Aside from the serious flaws in their conduct, it seems they bought the illusion Klughaft sold them – that Zandberg would manage to turn Meretz into a party whose power and function were equivalent to those of the Habayit Hayehudi party and its leader, Naftali Bennett. Just as it seems impossible for the right to form a governing coalition without Bennett and his party, and so their demands receive top priority, Meretz would become the party without which it’s impossible for the center-left to form a governing coalition.
This view is fundamentally mistaken. Netanyahu could certainly have left Habayit Hayehudi in the opposition and taken Zionist Union, whose strength is waning, into his government (and he may yet do so in the future). Similarly, should a center-left government be formed – and given the current state of the polls, this most likely means a government headed by Yair Lapid – it won’t need, and may not even want, Meretz and its demands in order to form a coalition. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party could make do with Zionist Union and what remains of the moderate right, like Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and even a post-Netanyahu Likud.
Thus the party that will replace the ultra-Orthodox as the “natural partner” whose demands must be met if the center-left is to gain power won’t be Meretz, but Zionist Union. This is a tragic development, because the Labor Party (the main component in the Zionist Union joint ticket with Hatnuah) is apparently becoming secondary to Yesh Atid. Moreover, if the center-left does manage to win enough Knesset seats to overcome Netanyahu and Likud, and the president invites Lapid (or Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay) to form a government, it’s not at all clear, as previously noted, that Meretz will be asked to join it.
Admittedly, Zandberg is trying to send the message that Meretz under her leadership is a more centrist party, and that’s important. But given Meretz’s special character as a party that ostensibly insists on its values, it may be more convenient to form a coalition without it.
Meretz’s voters are in despair. They want to have an influence. But it’s doubtful that illusions like those Klughaft sold Zandberg – that Meretz would manage to become the indispensable party – will bring them closer to that goal.
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For now, the most important political battle is the one to replace Netanyahu and Likud. If Meretz supporters really want to have an impact, they should recognize this reality and find a way to channel their vital influence through the parties that will certainly form the next center-left government – Zionist Union and Yesh Atid.