Opinion

We Have No Other Meretz

This Zionist-left party is Israel's only party that carries two banners, diplomatic and social, without blinking and without stuttering.

Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon speaking at a Meretz party conference in March 2017.
David Bachar

In his article “Meretz is finished,” Ron Cahlili dares to explain why the party must “get off the stage, alone, unaided and allow the new left, more variegated and combative, the one that will redefine Zionism and its goals, to try its luck.” This is the same Cahlili who in the last Knesset elections laid out his reasons for voting for the new left party, more variegated and combative – Shas. Yes, the same Shas that recently vomited out one of its Knesset members, who, heaven forbid, dared attend the wedding of his gay nephew; the same Shas whose current leader spends his time in the police fraud squad’s interrogation rooms; the same Shas whose previous chairman is one of the most extreme of Israel’s right-wing leaders and who, as interior minister, made life miserable for asylum seekers and foreign workers; the same Shas that has no women among its elected members and never will. That same Shas whose reason for being relies on the misery of its voters.

To summarize Cahlili’s statements, he is recycling an ancient, tediously well-known argument about the identity of Meretz as a Zionist party. To season the dish, he adds that Meretz “never taken a prominent role in workers’ struggles, for example, or in social struggles ...” His statements are so detached from reality that it seems they were written by someone who just landed from outer space, and has been away for many months, during which a dramatic social revolution took place in Israel – the increase in monthly government benefits for the disabled. This struggle was led courageously and with determination not by “social-minded” Shas, but by the chairman of the Meretz Knesset faction, MK Ilan Gilon. He was first into the fray, and he brought about one of the most significant social achievements of the Israeli left. Gilon’s efforts will lead to an increase of nearly 2,000 shekels ($568) a month in the allowances for the disabled, which now stand at a paltry 2,342 shekels a month. This achievement is as significant as the passing of a public housing law, which had also been buried for years with the support of Shas MKs.

True, Meretz has made its mistakes. Over the years it sometimes stagnated and mistakenly turned inward, appealing to a limited audience, and yes – sadly, also stuttered when it should have spoken out clearly. But in light of these mistakes by the party leadership, many of its members stood up and demanded debate and a change of positions, which more than once led Meretz to harden its tone and join – albeit tardily – the ranks of the opposition in political and diplomatic issues. In the Second Lebanon War, for example, it was actually the gay youth activists in Meretz who demanded that the leadership speak out clearly against the war, which finally led the leadership to toe the young activists’ line. And there are many other examples. Meretz’s mistakes can be corrected. The statement that Meretz is “finished” and “must get off the stage” borders on dangerous abandonment, which first and foremost serves the right wing.

The disintegration of Meretz would lead to significant damage to the attempt to create an alternative to the rule of Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The votes of its supporters would not serve as the foundation of a new political party, but at “best” would migrate to the Labor Party, which could find itself assimilated into a right-wing government as has happened more than once in the past, and in the worst case their votes would be scattered among parties that won’t pass the threshold for Knesset representation. Meretz today is the only party that carries two banners, diplomatic and social, without blinking and without stuttering.

Universal social benefits alongside opposition to the occupation, zero VAT on medications alongside the struggle against imprisonment without charges. That is what the left should sound like. If something should be taken off the stage, it’s the tongue-clucking of those who preached that the left should dismantle its forces in favor of hasty adventures, while they themselves voted for the most conservative, homophobic and chauvinistic forces there are in the Knesset. It might be “cool atmosphere” that Cahlili and his friends are seeking, even at the cost of continued right-wing rule. If this is the vision of their “new left,” then no thanks. I’m with Meretz, wholeheartedly.

The author is a member of the Meretz leadership.