Opinion

What's the Point of Purism if You Remain on the Sidelines?

It's better for Meretz voters to at least strengthen the Labor Party, which will definitely be a part of the coalition formed by Yair Lapid, if he wins the next election.

Lapid, in Sweden on August 2016
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP

We can relate with healthy skepticism to the results of the survey publicized last Friday on Channel 2 News, which indicated the strengthening of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that the apparent strengthening of Yesh Atid, primarily at the expense of the Labor Party and the Zionist Union, reflects above all the desire of left-wing voters to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu go home. The efforts by Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog in the past year to join the coalition convinced many people that Labor is liable to strengthen Netanyahu in the end, instead of replacing him. That’s why it’s worth their while to switch to the only alternative that is gaining momentum: Lapid and his party.

Although Lapid’s opponents claim that he is no different from the prime minister he wants to replace, many left-wing voters apparently don’t agree with them. We can make bets and try to guess to what extent Labor will eventually be denuded of its electorate. In any case it’s clear that even if Yesh Atid manages to get a significantly greater number of seats than Likud, the camp that opposes Netanyahu and the right will suffer from serious internal handicaps.

The coalition on which this camp will want to base itself won’t be able to rely on the Joint Arab List (or on separate Arab parties), so in any calculation of the vote against the right-wing opposition, the camp that aspires to change must take into account the loss of at least 13 seats, and perhaps even an additional 13 seats for its opponents.

At the moment this loss seems to be unavoidable. It’s possible that only a peace agreement with the Palestinians could bring the political leadership of the Israeli Arabs to participate seriously in a Zionist government. But until then another serious problem remains, which is liable to be very problematic for the Zionist-left Meretz. The rationale when Shulamit Aloni founded the party in the early 1970s was clear: Meretz was designed to be a liberal satellite party, which would always be a part of any coalition formed by Labor as a ruling party. That was the case in Yitzhak Rabin’s second government.

The problem is that over the years it has become clear that Labor is incapable of returning to power or keeping it, while Meretz itself is considered too extreme for any other coalition. (The government of Ehud Olmert, for example, included Labor but didn’t bring Meretz into the coalition, despite the wishes of its leader, Haim Oron.)

Most Meretz voters are convinced that a political body promoting liberal values – even if only as a fond hope – is an essential component of the Israeli political map. That’s why they support the party, regardless of its practical ability to implement its objectives. But purism has never been an asset in politics, and has usually caused serious damage. Those Meretz voters are largely responsible for the failure of the Labor Party’s attempt to present a serious alternative to Netanyahu in 2015, when they refused to join the Zionist Union. Even today their opinions are not beneficial in themselves and don’t advance the most important political objective of all, getting the right out of the government.

In light of Israel’s grave situation, we should be seriously asking what the point is in keeping an entire party for the purpose of declarations only, and whether it isn’t better for Meretz voters to at least strengthen the Labor Party, even if it shrinks greatly, because it will definitely be a part of the coalition formed by Lapid, if he wins the election (and there is a chance of that.)

Through that coalition it will be possible to wield influence. The chances that Meretz would be brought into such a coalition are very small, as Olmert proved. And if the question of the agreement with the Palestinians is on the agenda, it’s a good idea to stop observing from the sidelines.