Israeli Left Must Seek Salvation in Unity

Democratic Union's Stav Shaffir flanked by Ehud Barak, left, and party leader Nitzan Horowitz at a press conference in Tel Aviv, July 25, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Describing a typical left-wing demonstration, the late columnist Aharon Bachar wrote of going to a protest with a friend who was new to such things. They became surrounded by people in the crowd who boasted derisively that they’d been labeled subversives when this friend was just a twinkle in his father’s eye.

I recalled that old column in the face of the stale parade of tricks in the negotiations between Meretz officials and the Green Party’s Stav Shaffir and the Democratic Union’s Yair Golan, and between Meretz and Labor. The left is accused of turning its back on tradition, but it still seems to be bound to its long-standing tradition of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Listen: Under Trump, haters don't need an excuse to attack Jews. Ep. 55

I invested my life in Meretz. I became the leader of a party that remains dear to me. I supported the formation of the Democratic Union joint election ticket. It was hard for me to see some of Meretz’s outstanding MKs relegated down the slate as a result of the linkup, but it served its goal – to be an insurance policy against falling below the minimum threshold required to get into Knesset.

Parties fighting for their lives need to be capable of making painful changes – and Meretz is fighting for its life. That also holds true for Labor, whose self-satisfaction over the six seats it got in September’s election is a reminder of how great the party’s concern was about falling below the four-seat minimum.

Make no mistake: What was true for the September election no longer applies for the upcoming one in March. In the prior rounds, it was possible to pretend the election was about some issue involving ideology. This time around, the issue is Benjamin Netanyahu.

Don’t misunderstand – the choice is rather ideological. The reelection of Netanyahu would be a blank check for corruption. It would represent the option of a Kahanist government and a bid for annexation in the West Bank. Voters understand that very well and have no patience for ideological hair-splitting.

It’s not because they’re stupid or haven’t delved into the issue; it’s because they know what the priorities are now and know that a large number of voters will throw their support to the large parties, Kahol Lavan or Likud. This means there is genuine concern that Meretz or Labor won’t get past the threshold. If that happens, a new coalition headed by Netanyahu is assured.

The right wing understood this from the first round of elections in April. The awkward courtship between Habayit Hayehudi’s Rafi Peretz and Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir later found them openly holding hands. Gone was the talk about a “technical linkup.”

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett of Hayamin Hehadash are gearing up to attract Habayit Hayehudi voters who have become fed up with the alliance with the Kahanists but who, for some reason, are prepared to vote for someone who sat in the same coalition with them.

On the right they have understood that two plus two doesn’t always make four, but a joint ticket is a safety net against falling below the threshold. That’s how an organism which is capable of learning behaves – which cannot be said about the left.

A linkup among parties on the left as a technical bloc is not my cup of tea. I’d rather see a strong Jewish-Arab left-wing party established that would be a standard-bearer for human and civil rights and that would fight for an Israel where there are no second-class citizens or seventh-class non-citizens. But that will have to wait for the subsequent election.

The current one is about Netanyahu. Everyone on the right and center has realized this. It’s time for the left to come to its senses too.