Why Meretz Is So Important

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Ready to dance: The Meretz Knesset slate (from left), Esawi Freige, Nitzan Horowitz, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Tamar Zandberg, this week.
Ready to dance: The Meretz Knesset slate (from left), Esawi Freige, Nitzan Horowitz, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Tamar Zandberg, this week.Credit: Amir Levy
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Before the 2009 election Meretz’s chairperson decided to refresh the list of candidates with new people, in short, give the party a facelift.

Current Labor party leader Merav Michaeli was then one of the women who sought a reserved spot, but it didn’t come to pass. Nitzan Horowitz got the slot.

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In the days before the lists of candidates for the March 23 election had to be handed in, great efforts were made to unite Meretz with Labor. There are barely any differences as far as their politicians go. There’s nobody in the top five of Labor who couldn’t also run with Meretz.

But Horowitz wasn’t too enthusiastic about uniting and Michaeli didn’t even want to hear about it. She sees Labor as a possible ruling party down the road and herself as a candidate for prime minister. After all, Amir Peretz had anticipated that his union with Orly Levy-Abekasis would win them 15 Knesset seats.

Michaeli put in a lot of work to earn the chance to compete. Her candidacy is the only refreshing thing about the political system in terms of the candidates on offer this time around. Michaeli also brings with her the potential to attract voters who may not have otherwise voted for Labor.

All this does not justify her attempt at this masquerade. On Friday she told Maariv that she’s a Rabinist, or in other words, a centrist. She came close to claiming she supported Rafi (a center-right, Ben-Gurion-led breakaway faction from Labor in the mid-1960s) against Levi Eshkol and Mapai.

Her camp has seen many people in costume. Avi Gabbay pretended he was on the right, Yair Lapid also disguised himself politically for quite a while. All the disguises fell away, while even those who didn’t disguise themselves fell away too.

Meretz’s weaknesses are familiar to us all. It’s a party that operates a bit like an exclusive club, as though they were a ruling party. Most of its primary candidates lose to the same people who keep running election after election. Those who have succeeded in getting a foothold do so mainly by being placed on a reserved spot on the Knesset list.

Even worse, Meretz has made itself close to irrelevant. It hasn’t been in government for 20 years. Most of the time justly so, but even during periods when it was possible to fantasize about joining a coalition, Meretz was not even considered. The purist school headed by former chairwoman Zehava Galon is still waiting for Yitzhak Rabin’s coalition to return.

It is a credit to Horowitz and his predecessor Tamar Zandberg that they were wise enough to link up with reality. Galon would not agree to join a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman for all the right reasons. Zandberg and Horowitz are ready to sit in the same government with him for just one purpose: If Benjamin Netanyahu is disqualified, and Lieberman is seen as an outcast, and Naftali Bennett is too extreme, then there’s no government that Meretz could ever join. In the end, few people want to vote for a party competing for political power based on a stance that would never yield them any real influence, as though they are too good for this political system.

According to all the polls, the Bennett-Sa’ar-Lapid trio can form a coalition even if everyone sticks to their respective boycotts of eschewing the terrible Arabs, the creepy Haredim and Netanyahu. Most polls show that it’s conditional upon the trio being wise enough to share the role of prime minister. It may be necessary for the first time in the country’s history to do a three-way rotation of the prime minister’s job.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at a campaign rally in Nazareth yesterday.Credit: Amir Levy

Even though Bennett’s Yamina party should win no more than about 10 seats, reality dictates that getting him to abandon the right-Haredi bloc for one that’s relatively foreign to him may require offering him the job of prime minister. The second dictate of reality, based on most polls, is that Bennett’s readiness (and that of Ayelet Shaked and Alon Davidi) to join a coalition with Meretz is by no means guaranteed.

At the same time, it’s very important for Meretz to survive and stay in the Knesset. Labor hasn’t spoken for quite a while about the occupation, doesn’t enthuse about defending the New Israel Fund or Breaking the Silence, and won’t deal with the violence committed by extremist settlers. Meretz has Mossi Raz and Gaby Lasky, who will always be there on this issue, and Horowitz, Zandberg, Yair Golan and Esawi Freij have never abandoned it.

In a Knesset that’s about to become the most right-wing ever, the mere presence of lawmakers from the other side of the spectrum isn’t much to write home about. On the other hand, having four of them – the minimum a party needs to enter Knesset – is better than none.

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