Left-wing Meretz Party Is Doing Itself In

If good candidates don’t hold sway in this members-only club’s central committee, they can only make the Knesset by joining other parties.

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On.
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On.Credit: Nir Keidar
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Meretz is holding its primary on Monday, but forget about cutting the tension with a knife. Will Zahava Gal-On stay in first place? (She’s running unopposed.) Will Ilan Gilon stay in second place or drop to third? Can Uri Zaki secure sixth place, or will Mossi Raz or Avshalom Vilan beat him out?

Say what you will about Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, but its primary was a real shindig. Twenty thousand new party members in two weeks; right-wing stars dived in and contributed new ideas and energy.

But on the other side of the political map, ideological leftist Meretz continues to run its members-only club. The folks on the club’s bus shut the doors long ago and don’t let anybody new on.

Election after election, it's the same list of worthies: Vilan, Raz, Gilon, Gal-On and Issawi Freij. Their work along the way is exhausting: joining the party, electing a central committee, debating — anything to move somebody up or down one spot on the party ticket.

Once upon a time a certain star wanted to run for Meretz, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Eyal Ben-Reuven. He was sure party members would die of excitement because a security expert like him was throwing in his prestige.

Well, people got very excited but Ben-Reuven won’t be running on Monday. Somebody must have explained to him that, will all due respect, the 1,000 members of the Meretz Central Committee have backed other people. He may have had a talk with another retired star, Col. Shaul Arieli, a great expert on the diplomatic process who ran like an ordinary person and found out he wasn’t even close to making it into the Knesset.

A peek at the Labor Party ticket shows how the Meretz slate could have looked. Merav Michaeli wanted to be in Meretz in 2009. She wasn’t assured a slot so she went over to Labor.

Zouheir Bahloul, Yariv Oppenheimer, Stav Shaffir and many other Labor candidates are in fact potential Meretz candidates. Some even considered this possibility until it was explained to them that the Labor primary, with all its drawbacks, would be a walk in the park compared to the chance of winning at the Meretz Central Committee.

There are few floating votes at the Meretz Central Committee. It hardly matters who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Without “your” supporters electing the central committee members you want, it’s almost impossible to get in. Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan got in at the time only because they had spots reserved for them.

So did Nitzan Horowitz. The reason Horowitz quit the Knesset is also linked to the way Meretz holds its elections. Horowitz didn’t cultivate his supporters well enough, so “his” central committee members weren’t enough. If there were enough floating votes he would have been high on the list; without them he might as well have quit.

In the 2009 election, then-Meretz chief Haim Oron tried to break the system and bring in new people. The attempt was admirable; Oron brought in people like high-profile lawyer Talia Sasson, but he still failed. Meretz won only three Knesset seats. That was ultimate proof the members-only club didn’t need new blood. “What for? The brand will do the work for us.”

In the current election Meretz’s survival is in danger. Clearly the size of the Labor Party is a critical element in bringing down the Netanyahu government. A significant gap in Knesset seats between Labor and Likud has created legitimacy for Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman, Shas chief Aryeh Deri and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon to go with Labor head Isaac Herzog.

Opinion polls are predicting five or six seats for Meretz, just above the electoral threshold. A little more flow to Herzog and the club members will find themselves absolutely right and positively out of the Knesset.

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