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Don’t Be So Quick to Toss Out the Zionist Left

Uzi Baram
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Labor chairman Amir Peretz (L) and Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz announce merger ahead of Israeli election, January 13, 2019.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz (L) and Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz announce merger ahead of Israeli election, January 13, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod
Uzi Baram

Even if the outcome of the upcoming election is encouraging – i.e., Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his camp lose – that won’t erase the profound and dangerous right-wing transformation of the Israeli public. 

To succeed in the election and assemble his bloc under one umbrella, Netanyahu embraced extreme right politician Itamar Ben Gvir. The only reason he didn’t bring Ben Gvir into Likud was his fear of the dubious public relations the move would have engendered. Ben Gvir is exactly the same as Likud lawmakers Miri Regev and Miki Zohar, and most Likud supporters would have received him as “one of us.”

To succeed in the election and assemble the centrist-left bloc under one umbrella, Kahol Lavan must include Yoaz Hendel on its slate. Of course there is no comparison between Hendel and Ben Gvir, but one fact is inescapable: A centrist party that aspires to succeed must showcase the handsome and talented young man who is considered a “moderate” right-winger. Why? Because its leaders believe that a desire for a peace agreement, opposition to West Bank annexation and a demand to revoke the nation-state law will prevent it from being the dominant political force.

The election campaign does not center on the issues at the heart of Israel’s existence as a democratic state. The right is talking about annexation in a vague but consistent manner. Kahol Lavan is not talking about peace with the Palestinians or revoking the nation-state law, not even vaguely.

Kahol Lavan is far preferable to Likud. Most of the citizens who are determined to bring down Netanyahu want to strengthen Benny Gantz’s party and consider it the alternative. In the two last election campaigns, it was clearly proven that the power of the bloc is greater than that of the leading party. Likud can lag behind Kahol Lavan by six seats and still form a government, thanks to the seats received by the religious, the ultra-Orthodox right-wing Zionists and the Haredim.

The merger between Labor and Meretz was decided on to prevent the center-left bloc from being in danger. It was supported by most Kahol Lavan voters, who believed it prevents a waste of votes in the event that one of the parties doesn’t pass the electoral threshold (3.25 percent of votes cast). They have no interest in the success of the Zionist-left merger; rather, they see it as a lifesaver for Gantz.

But there are some voters who believe in the views of the two partners to the merger: a renewal of the peace process, two states for two peoples, revocation of the nation-state law, social justice based on a detailed agenda and honest leadership.

The decline of Labor is a sign of the times. It lost its strength because most of the public was convinced it is irrelevant, that its opinions are a thing of the past, that peace is not possible, that the occupation is a problem but there is no secure option of extricating ourselves from it.

But those who think otherwise must maintain the power of the Zionist left as a possible alternative to Kahol Lavan. After all, there is no guarantee that the new party will be able to contain all its varied viewpoints and bridge the gaps among its components. The disappearance of Labor and Meretz means the elimination of the only alternative on the left side of the political map.

Kahol Lavan must glean votes from the soft right. Naftali Bennett is a very weak link in the stabilization of the bloc to the right of Likud. A week ago he announced he was planning to establish a liberal national religious movement. A few days later he took on Bezalel Smotrich, who is loyal to the values of the slain extremist leader Meir Kahane, and the ludicrous and benighted Rafi Peretz. Even Netanyahu has encountered a certain degree of opposition among the ranks of Likud.

Gantz has to find votes in these two strongholds. The role of the Zionist left is to restore votes that were lost and become part of a strong bloc that will replace Netanyahu.