If the members of the Meretz party convention want their party to have a chance of surviving in the upcoming September election, they should elect Nitzan Horowitz as the party’s leader on Thursday. That’s not because of how the current chairwoman, Tamar Zandberg, handled allegations of sexual harassment against a party member, Nimrod Barnea, but because it was simply a mistake to have elected her.
A party whose past leaders have been so impressive was led into April’s Knesset election by someone who is – how can this be put delicately – not very impressive. Zandberg says all the right things: She’s against the occupation and supportive of LGBT people and women’s rights, but she doesn’t delve into any issue, doesn’t take the initiative and doesn’t present fresh ideas (other than the fight against Israeli arms dealing with rogue governments). Sometimes she seems more like the spokeswoman rather than the leader of the party.
Meretz has only been in government for five out of the 27 years of its existence. For the past 19 years, it has not even come close to entering coalition negotiations. And yet during this period, its leaders left their mark on the country’s public life on occasion. Admiration for Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, Haim Oron and Zehava Galon extended across party lines. They were able to lead public and political initiatives and they were perceived as of greater importance than the size of their party.
Zandberg is of far lower standing. She barely survived the April Knesset election, and did so in no small degree because of a shift of support to Meretz by Arab voters who were disappointed with the scrapping of the Arab Joint List. The Meretz campaign was pitiful, not only because it was uninteresting, worn and gray, but also because it focused for some reason only on the chairwoman, who was repeatedly depicted in complimentary poses. The other things that Meretz had to offer were out of sight.
Quite a lot has been said already about Zandberg’s credibility. Relative to the leaders of other parties, she has a fine record, but more is expected of Meretz’s leader. Shortly before she presented her candidacy, she insisted that she had no intention to run. Then she secretly sought the advice of a right-wing campaign consultant, Moshe Klughaft, who had been part of a campaign to turn “leftists” into “traitors.” She denied it, only to admit it after she won. Since then she has provided a great many explanations, none of them really persuasive.
And yes, the case of Nimrod Barnea revealed those same failings that make Zandberg an ineffectual leader. The superficiality, the clichés, cutting corners over the facts and surrendering to media pressure. By the way, before the Barnea case, there was a similar affair in Meretz.
Zandberg caused a key activist to give up his city council race in a major city as a Meretz candidate over claims of sexual harassment. In that case too, her stance skimmed over the facts and focused more in the direction of “how it would look.” Zandberg claimed that there was no dispute over the facts (but there was) and that the candidate should “take responsibility” and speak to the opposing side. She could not explain what she meant by taking responsibility and had was unable to respond when the candidate wondered why his endless attempts to speak to the other side came to nothing.
Horowitz was the Meretz candidate for mayor of Tel Aviv in 2013 and lost by a large margin to Mayor Ron Huldai. There’s no shame in that. Both before and after Horowitz, anyone who has challenged Huldai has lost. But Horowitz got burned and left unfavorable impressions regarding his management skills: staff infighting, turnover and an unfocused campaign.
It was no accident that he retired from political life, but he is far preferable to Zandberg as a result of his familiarity with the issues, his passion and his genuine willingness to join forces with the Labor Party. Zandberg paid lip service and continues to do so over such a move. She actually suspects that Horowitz and Ehud Barak have already decided on a linkup. But with her at the helm, it would be much harder to join up with Labor, and in its current condition, Meretz can’t put 130,000 votes at risk.
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