Opinion

Heads of Israel's Labor, Meretz Parties Falling Victim to Chronic Leftist Syndrome

This pathology grows stronger in the face of the stability of right-wing rule, especially the imperial kind like that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Labor chief Avi Gabbay and Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg.
Ilan Assayag, Olivier Fitoussi

It’s not clear whether we’re dealing with cause or effect, but both the Labor Party and Meretz – which are at the most critical junctures in their history – are currently headed by leaders who are not terribly popular among their constituents.

Internal battles are common to all human organizations, especially an one laden with intrigue like a political party. In this case, it is accompanied by a severe leftist pathology: a chronic, tongue-clucking disapproval marked by an unabating passion – on the part of both activists and voters – to decapitate their leaders and crown new ones, only to cut their heads off again, and again.

>> Read more: Boxed in left and right, Meretz holds primary election | Analysis ■ The Israeli left should learn from Trump | Opinion

Regrettably, this afflicts the left rather than the right, whose herdlike behavior sometimes leads it to accomplishments such as holding onto power. This compelling pathology of the left grows stronger in the face of the stability of right-wing rule, especially the imperial kind like that of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both Avi Gabbay and Tamar Zandberg – who are all in all good people – face deep opposition within their own parties. In most cases this is not a vociferous opposition, with the exception of figures like Eitan Cabel, but whispering embers spreading voiceless smoke.

So yes, this is politics. Senior ministers speak of Netanyahu off the record in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing in television studies, Rabin and Peres could have strangled each another and Yossi and Shula also wrangled until they drew blood, and so on.

But these cases were different. By contrast, Gabbay and Zandberg’s leadership hasn’t been accepted deeply in their respective parties. Their acceptance is more instrumental, functional. Their party colleagues are going out of their way to behave themselves, not to badmouth them in public, and even to defend them somewhat. Not much beyond that.

Both leaders have voters who resent them personally. Some object to Gabbay for insulting veteran party voters in a bid to pick up Likud voters, and being left without either. Others resent Zandberg for hiring adviser Moshe Klughaft, favored of Naftali Bennett and Im Tirtzu, and thus displaying dubious judgment.

Labor’s primary last week and its relative recovery in the ensuing polls proves this point: The ticket, or the “team,” that Labor elected managed to slightly blur the damage to the party’s image caused by the chairman.

In Meretz’s case, presumably the brand will carry it again to the safe side of the river. Otherwise we’ll witness the bloodcurdling scenario of Kahanists Itamar Ben Gvir and Michael Ben Ari occupying the next Knesset’s benches instead of Meretz veterans Mossi Raz and Ilan Gilon. It’s not stretching it to assume that had Zehava Galon, after resigning the Meretz leadership, joined Ahmad Tibi in a new Jewish-Arab party, it would have been the end of the only Jewish leftist party.

The only thing going for Gabbay and Zandberg is the increasing erosion of the Gantz enterprise, which after a highly auspicious launch is beginning to flounder and stutter from one clarification to the next. Also, the chance of Gantz joining Yair Lapid is diminishing. If Gantz manages to restart his momentum, whether by merging or with a good performance; if he succeeds in portraying himself again as a real threat to Netanyahu’s rule, Gabbay and Zandberg will be thrown back into the danger zone.

Until the elections, Gabbay and Zandberg are safe. Their parties know there’s no point in causing unnecessary upheavals whose results are impossible to predict. Will that be enough to ensure their status after the elections? Not likely.

Still, even finicky leftists who would like to see some role model or superhero at the head of one of these parties have no other options. They don’t have the privilege of abandoning the Knesset to a bunch of appointees who have no obligation the public, who will most likely be dragged after the anti-democratic right.