Israel's Only Truly Leftist Party Is in Danger of Extinction

Should Meretz not make it to the Knesset, the great hope of replacing Netanyahu will die with it.

Aner Shalev
Aner Shalev
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A Meretz and Labor activists' demo in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, 2015.
A Meretz and Labor activists' demo in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Aner Shalev
Aner Shalev

The Israeli left is slowly, inexorably becoming extinct. Many people on the right, center and the left itself are partners in that extinction project.

The election of Benjamin Netanyahu to the premiership in 1996, despite the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the enormous support for the peace camp and the anger against the inflammatory right wing, was unreasonable — a kind of historical accident. It is to be hoped that tomorrow will be the great day of rectification, the day on which Netanyahu will disappear from our public lives after having controlled them for far too long.

Among those responsible for the rise of Netanyahu in 1996 were Labor and Shimon Peres, who was prime minister at the time. Two actions that Peres initiated — the assassination of “The Engineer,” Yahya Ayash, in Gaza and Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon — sealed his fate. The assassination of Ayash created a wave of terrorism on which the right-wing rode all the way to the Prime Minister’s Office. The massacre in Kafr Kana in Lebanon alienated many Israeli Arabs from Peres, who veered to the right and unintentionally crowned Netanyahu.

Ehud Barak, the great hope of 1999, engaged in a similar pattern of action. His hasty declaration that there was no partner, after the extremely brief talks at Camp David, gave ammunition to the right-wing and was among the causes of the Al-Aksa Intifada and the rise of Ariel Sharon. Barak later joined Netanyahu’s government, where he served as a fig leaf.

Something in the DNA of Labor and its leaders makes them lose identity and cross lines. The current election campaign is an excellent example of this. First, Labor was wiped out as a brand and its place taken by Zionist Union. This is not a mere change in semantics. Bringing in Tzipi Livni, who advocates overthrowing Hamas, as a prime ministerial candidate and the neo-liberal Manuel Trajtenberg as candidate for finance minister, places Zionist Union deep in the center, far away from the left.

Zionist Union’s campaign ads bypass the Likud from the right — for example, regarding Operation Protective Edge. This right-wing facelift has turned Zionist Union into the most appropriate address for many centrist voters, who are flocking to it.

While Labor has people who are clearly on the left, they are well hidden — and their concealment contributes to the extinction of the left-wing. The swallowing of Hadash into the Joint List, which includes Islamists and anti-feminists, is also a tough blow for the Israeli left-wing. Joint List’s refusal to sign a surplus-votes agreement with Meretz, contrary to the position of its leader Ayman Odeh, harms the chances of replacing Netanyahu and is proof that those who set the tone for the list belong to Balad and the Islamic Movement, not to Hadash.

For this reason, Meretz is the only left-wing list in Israel — and it, too, is in danger of extinction. It has swung between four and five seats in the latest polls, but the Zionist Union’s “It’s us or him” campaign and the trickle of left-wing voters to the Joint List could push Meretz below the electoral threshold. If Meretz should disappear, the non-right bloc will lose precious seats and Isaac Herzog will have no chance of forming a government.

Meretz is the only party that advocates sharing the land, the separation of religion and state, the just division of resources and civil and gender equality. It is also the only party with a realistic chance of getting into the Knesset that is led by a woman and the only list on which women occupy 60 percent of the slots.

In a sane country, Meretz would be a serious contender for ruling party, not a candidate for extinction. It is not only the members of the left-wing but also Herzog’s supporters who must keep Meretz from being eliminated, since if it should become extinct, the great hope of replacing Netanyahu will die with it.

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