Opinion |

Why Israel Needs Meretz More Than Ever

If the only issue you vote on is 'anyone but Bibi,' that’s what you’ll get: not Bibi - Israel needs much more than that

Zehava Galon
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Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg at the Meretz campaign launch, March 11, 2019.
Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg at the Meretz campaign launch, March 11, 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar
Zehava Galon

One need only glance at the party leaders competing over who can propose the stupidest and most violent policy toward the Gaza Strip to understand why a large Meretz is vital to the next Knesset. Benny Gantz called for “restoring” deterrence and the use of massive force. Maybe he wants the pictures for his next election campaign. His Kahol Lavan colleague Moshe Ya’alon called for exacting a heavy price.

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, in contrast, called on politicians to watch their mouths so as not to drag us into another military operation. He nearly succeeded, until remarks he made in 2017, calling to “conquer Gaza and finish the job” were brought up. All that, before even mentioning trolling from Likud and parties to its right. The only party that opposed sending soldiers to their deaths in another pointless, election-fueled operation was Meretz.

Today’s election campaigns reflect tomorrow’s Knesset, which will be further right and more dangerous than the last. The Kahanists currently in the Knesset will join the Kahanists from Otzma Yehudit. With votes from the left, Kahol Lavan will place in the legislature the right-wing candidates who were part of Ya’alon’s dowry. To top of the insanity, Moshe Feiglin’s “soldiers” will demand that their platform be read by everyone — but not before setting off a minor world war on the Temple Mount.

It’s a good idea to take a moment, with anguish, to imagine how the new Knesset members will respond on some of the issues on the agenda. How will Gantz, as prime minister, respond to the next wave of escalation? In which direction will the members of his party, or of his governing coalition, pull him? How will the Knesset vote when it has to decide on Arab, LGBT, refugee and contract workers’ rights? No less important, what will each vote add to this chorus?

In today’s Knesset, no other party on the left has the clear and consistent voice of Meretz. Not the left of immediately before the election, after despairing of the right-wing voters who have not appeared. Not the left that thinks how much it would damage it politically to treat refugees as human beings. Not the left that speaks about coexistence, but runs away whenever it sees an Arab.

It’s easy to speak about Meretz’s historic accomplishments, the struggles it waged alone, before the political hitchhikers saw the votes and joined in, but the party would never had earned these credits had it not been for its consistency, its willingness to be there alone itself sometimes and to chart the way.

Maybe Gantz will succeed in replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, maybe he won’t. It’s obvious that he won’t stand a chance without a large Meretz that can tip the scales. But even if Meretz must be in the opposition once again, it will do so wisely. You won’t see any of its lawmakers joining hate campaigns against human rights organizations and cheering on the next military campaign from the bleachers, all the while keeping one eye on the public opinion polls.

Disappointed Meretz voters tend to set standards for the party that they would never think of setting for any of the other parties they flirt with. No expectations, no disappointment. But that’s reflected in the Knesset as well: public representatives from whom the public expects nothing.

Meretz is the only party today that “does” left. Its leftism does not confuse a state of the Jewish people and all its citizens with a Jewish state. It does not stutter in the face of nationality laws or Nakba laws. I fear a Knesset in which the only voices calling for equal rights and an end to the occupation are the Arab parties, while the other parties once more grovel before yet another of the right’s makeshift loyalty tests.

If the only issue you vote on is “anyone but Bibi,” that’s what you’ll get: not Bibi. Israel needs much more than that.