A Problem in the Heart of Meretz

Tsafi Saar
Tsafi Saar
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Tsafi Saar
Tsafi Saar

Meretz has doubled its strength by winning six seats in the election. The party has an energetic parliamentary record; it's the party that works for human rights, against the occupation, for social justice (even before this became a slogan) and for gender equality. It's headed by a woman who's a gifted politician and has clean hands. What more could we ask for?

Well, there is more to ask for. Meretz is sending five Jewish politicians and one Arab politician to the Knesset. Each Jewish politician is of Ashkenazi (European Jewish) origin. It’s not just a matter of the MKs’ origins. Though Meretz tries to help the weaker segments of the population, it hasn't expanded its narrow circle of supporters, the vast majority of whom are from the same socioeconomic class and same ethnic origin.

This failure isn't a fluke. The makeup of a party slate is a platform in its own right, reflecting its vision and signaling who’s in and who isn't.

The Meretz representatives are all good people. Their heart is in the right place. Good souls. Which brings us to their election campaign, an effort rife with mistakes. It started with the patronizing slogan "Your heart is on the left, neshama" – that final word, "my soul," is a term of endearment characteristic of non-Ashkenazi speakers of Hebrew.

Then there was that video that mocked people taking part in the Revivo Project, a revival of old songs from Middle Eastern Jewish traditions, one of the best music projects in recent years. It sometimes seemed as if the campaign were trying to persuade people not to vote for Meretz.

The thing is, the Meretz people really are good people. And smart – they have an explanation for everything. When asked about their lack of Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin), they noted that their three top spots were filled by a woman, a disabled person and a gay man. About the mocking video, they said it was made not by the party but by its supporters. Even if in some cases such answers are acceptable, the questions leave no room for doubt: The party has a problem. A big problem.

In fact, Meretz is continuing the Israeli left's long and inglorious tradition of (in the best case) ignoring Mizrahim, including the Mizrahi left. In the past this was clear racism. What is it today? Why the insularity and foregoing of activities with people committed to similar values? How can it be that a party that waves the banners of human rights, equality and pluralism is sending to the Knesset only people from a hegemonic class? How come its leaders don’t understand that this produces a lack of trust, which the high-flown words, the willingness and even the worthy actions won't dispel?

If Meretz wants to establish a real and broad left, it has to start now. Yesterday it should have begun a thorough inspection, not to say revolution. First, its men and women must acknowledge the problem. There is no escaping it, and no intellectual explanation will sweep it under the rug.

As every female politician in Meretz no doubt knows, men, no matter how progressive and enlightened, cannot faithfully represent women’s interests. In this way, Ashkenazim cannot represent Mizrahim, and the same applies to Jews and Palestinians.

Throughout the country groups of activists are busy at work, and if Meretz has the sense to realize that they are its only hope (not the other way around) and to cooperate with them – not as a senior partner and patron – hope could spring here. And it wouldn't just be for the party, but for all Israel.

Meretz head Zahava Gal-On, right, at a press conference in December.Credit: Moti Milrod

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