Opinion

With Gantz on the Scene, Meretz and Labor Must Unite

The two parties on the social-democratic left need to unite for their own survival, and the demands they could make of a Gantz government would push us all forward

Meretz's Tamar Zandberg and Labor's Avi Gabbay, both leading their parties into elections.
Moti Milrod, Olivier Fitoussi

Like a super-moon, a meteorite shower, or an invasion of the solar system by an unidentified object, every few decades there is an astronomical event, with the advent of a new leader who fits perfectly into some basic mold that’s imprinted onto the nation’s collective consciousness. Everyone knows that nagging feeling – something is missing but it’s not clear what that is – we’ll recognize it when we see it. Well, many people have now encountered it. It’s Benny Gantz, dressed in a suit and surrounded by fans, digging his teeth into Benjamin Netanyahu’s main artery, killing him softly.

>> Read more: For the first time in years, it looks like Israel has an alternative to Netanyahu ■ Like Netanyahu, Gantz plays on the anxieties of his would-be voters

Compared to Gantz, Netanyahu looks devious, decadent, like Louis XVI, but it’s Yair Lapid who’s sustained the heaviest blow. Like in a police lineup broadcast live, in which viewers are just about ready to sluggishly point at Lapid, Gantz shows up and everyone shouts in unison: That’s him!

With Gantz on the scene, Lapid can no longer be viewed as an alternative to the prime minister, but only as someone who’s kept the chair warm over the last few years, until the true alternative appeared. Thus, the option he faces is to unite or evaporate. As someone who told Moshe Ya’alon: “I know that as someone who put a bullet between the eyes of Abu Jihad, you don’t think you should be number two under an ordinary soldier, but that’s how it works” (Ravit Hecht, Haaretz Hebrew edition, January 24), Lapid will now have to hear Gantz say: “I understand that as someone who traveled the country and built yourself from one election to another, you don’t believe you should be number two under a political novice, but that’s how it works.”

Even if this does evoke a smile, the Gantz phenomenon has had a powerful impact on the left, and that’s worrisome. Meretz, according to polls, is wobbling close to the threshold for making it into the Knesset, while Labor attains numbers that should not be mentioned, to ward off the evil eye. Thus, a union between these two parties will ensure the survival of a social-democratic left-wing bloc, making tiny satellite parties redundant and showing numbers that will restore voter confidence, returning to the fold many who’ve deserted it.

If Gantz is elected, one can hope that the toxic discourse now prevailing here will change. The words “social-democratic left” will no longer be a commonly-used obscenity, but a source of pride. Under such circumstances both parties can survive and push forward a social agenda, talking openly about a long-term agreement in Gaza, ridding themselves of the pot legalization and vegan prattle that afflicted Meretz. They could demand that a Gantz government, assuming he wins, support various civil society organizations, and they could bring to the Knesset the excellent parliamentarians we deserve to have there.

Two possibilities face us: the end of the ideological era in Israeli politics, or the infusion of new blood into parties that have stopped speaking to their voters. Both Avi Gabbay and Tamar Zandberg are for the first time leading their parties in an election. Neither of them wants to be or should be the person whose name is associated with the demise of their party, especially since that they inherited many of the problems plaguing their parties. Gabbay entered a party that had lost all its self-respect after Isaac Herzog’s groveling crawl toward the Netanyahu government, and Zandberg inherited a party which for years had been the bastion of an educated, rich (and white) bourgeoisie, only now attempting to talk to various socio-economic strata. I believe a union is an offer that cannot be turned down without paying an unacceptable price – its advantages are stark clear.