Opinion

Power, Not Purity, for the Israeli Left

If centrists Yair Lapid or Avi Gabbay is the next PM, the Meretz party can make their government left-wing - but only from inside the coalition

Israeli left-wing activists in a pro-peace demonstration in 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Meretz was born in the early 1990s through the merging of three parties, which shared a strong desire to change reality and the recognition of a desire to shift out of the box and exploit a historic moment.

The move was a resounding success. Meretz won 12 Knesset seats in 1992 and was the most important component of Yitzhak Rabin’s second government. Shulamit Aloni entered a Rabin government that included Shas, even as the conflict between Meretz and the ultra-Orthodox parties was at its height. There were those who thought Meretz should have declared before the 1992 elections that it wouldn’t sit in the coalition, but in the political reality that would have resulted, Rabin would have never reached the Oslo agreement.

Now, strangely enough, there is a discussion going on about entering the government when there isn’t even a date for elections. But behind that debate there are fundamental differences in approach. This is not a choice between ideological devotion and pragmatism. We do not seek to compromise our values; we are demanding the opportunity to translate them into political power. The reality is that Meretz has willingly given up sitting in the coalition and during election campaigns it is forced to plead for its life before the voters.

If after the next elections there emerges a narrow left-wing government, that would be great. But if not, the question will be: Who is drawing up a boycott list and prefers sitting in the opposition alongside Likud and Naftali Bennett over joining a coalition headed by Labor’s Avi Gabbay or Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. In an article on Facebook it looks wonderful – we are once again justifying ourselves to death. In reality, we will once again be letting others determine our fate.

The renewed Meretz is a party that will take its fate into its own hands; it will declare with whom it is prepared to sit in a coalition, what its guidelines will be and what its goals are. In such a situation it doesn’t matter whether Meretz runs alone, with Hadash or in any other configuration. Jewish-Arab partnership is a worthy goal, but the difference between politics and a civics lesson is the ability of the partnership to change the political reality. We will know how to battle a racist, right-wing government from the opposition, but do we have the courage and the strength to imagine a different situation, in which our values dictate the government guidelines?

Politics is a struggle to change reality and you can’t change reality if you don’t get on the field in the first place. In recent years we have become somewhat addicted to boycotts and skepticism. It looks right and good, but the result is the shoving of the entire left into an isolated, ineffectual corner. Part of the despair and confusion in our camp stems from exactly this position, in which we see the right systematically dismantling Israeli democracy, as the occupation intensifies and freedom of expression is curtailed, and all we can do is be shocked.

The Israeli left is on the verge of disappearing just as support for our positions is growing. Despite all the government’s efforts, the two-state solution still has the support of most Israelis. The majority objects to closing businesses on Shabbat and the exclusion of women, and supports equal rights for the LGBT community. Our challenge is to translate these positions into political power and to translate that power into policy. A “Lapid government” or a “Gabbay government” is an empty shell whose content will be determined by the identity of its partners. Lapid or Gabbay with Bennett will be right-wing; Lapid or Gabbay with a 10-MK Meretz party will be left-wing. This has to be our real goal.

Tamar Zandberg is a Meretz MK.