No Illusions Over Zandberg’s Costly Mistake

If Meretz's new leader really fears for the future of the left, she must regain the trust of party members, or resign

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg
Meged Gozani

Just imagine that in two months the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization launches one of its periodic smear campaigns against the New Israel Fund. Could Tamar Zandberg, Meretz’s new chairman, accuse them of incitement? The next time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is caught lying, will Zandberg be able to attack him for his lack of credibility? If Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett or Betzalel Smotrich make use of Moshe Klughaft’s strategic advice to gain cheap popularity at the expense of left-wing parties and organizations, will Zandberg’s cries about dark fascism carry any weight?

I don’t envy Zandberg and what she’s been through this past week, after it was discovered that she was advised by Klughaft – and lied about it. Not the intensity of the jolt and not the speed of the fall. Everything has already been said about the disappointment regarding her choices, her actions and her judgment. But more important than what has been is what will be: The concern is that Meretz will now be led by a lame duck. That’s not a good situation for any party, but for Meretz it’s an existential danger.

To understand the depth of the problem you have to be familiar with Meretz and the state of the ideological left. A stranger wouldn’t understand; on the right they’re watching the ongoing storm with amazement mixed with disdain. Nor do the Mapainiks really get it. They consider Zandberg’s critics bleeding hearts and are snidely labeling those calling for her resignation as “purists.” What’s the big deal? they ask as they shake their heads. The left is allowed to adopt the methods of the right, and finally a woman who wants to win at any cost has emerged. You’re allowed to lie a little bit in politics. She erred. She apologized. Move on.

But for Meretz and the left, the opposite is true. Concerns over Zandberg continuing as party chairwoman is not purism but realpolitik. We’re not talking about lofty ideals (although those are still not illegal in Israel) but very practical considerations.

Meretz is a small party that suffers from a host of almost chronic weaknesses and limitations, but enjoys one very clear advantage. For years the party has been like the class nerd – not particularly cool, charismatic or popular. It’s easy to make fun of it, and not very rewarding to identify with it. It has only one undeniable plus: You know what you’re getting. Meretz has clear and consistent qualities like integrity, clean behavior and ideological purity. For the wonders of modern politics, like mudslinging, fluid values, masquerades, the art of the impossible and so on, there are plenty of other parties.

Moreover, Meretz is viewed as the flag-bearer of an ideological camp that has been shrinking over the past decade as it is. Many of its members feel bruised, defeated and sometimes persecuted. They have no illusions. It’s clear to them that they are a minority, an object of hatred and sometimes a scapegoat. The only political fuel that keeps them going is their belief in the justice of their cause and the team spirit (giving up condescension is advisable). In this world the rules of the game are different.

The disappointment with Zandberg and the lack of confidence in her are not just issues for the supporters of Avi Buskila, her rival for Meretz leadership, or a private matter for the party’s lawmakers. The fracture is bigger than that. The longing for a “generational revolution” has yielded to longing for Zehava Galon’s cleanliness overnight. The danger is that Zandberg will chase too many voters away, toward a different leftist framework or a new one that will emerge – or worse, to one of the trendy right-wing parties masquerading as centrists, like Yair Lapid’s and Orli Levi-Abekasis’. Meretz doesn’t have any votes to lose. It is likely to fall short of the electoral threshold, bringing destruction on itself and causing a disaster for the entire liberal-democratic camp.

If Zandberg really loves Meretz and fears for the future of the left, she must regain the trust of party members, or resign.