If one can draw a conclusion from random social encounters in the run-up to the election, Meretz is in trouble. A decisive percentage of the Meretz voters I’ve spoken with have decided to defect to Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, while others are still considering. If they go through with their decision, and if they represent a broader phenomenon, Meretz could find itself scraping the electoral threshold from below. Its sharp, clear and unique voice would disappear from the Knesset.
This would deliver a tough blow to the Israeli left in particular, and to the chance of replacing Benjamin Netanyahu in general. The loss of 150,000 votes, along with the Knesset seats they represent, would turn the chances of forming a center-left “obstructive bloc” thwarting the right from poor to nil In this respect, a vote for Meretz could also be deemed “strategic,” the result of a cold calculation that yields a utilitarian decision.
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Meretz voters will never forget the 2009 election in which voters were presented with the binary option of “Either Bibi or Tzipi” – Benjamin Netanyahu or Tzipi Livni. The flood of votes for Kadima in the effort to block Netanyahu pushed Meretz down to three seats from the six that polls had predicted. If the electoral threshold had been 3.25 percent, as it is now, Meretz would have been left out of the Knesset and by now might be ancient history.
Many people blame what they see as Tamar Zandberg’s lackluster leadership. While she’s eloquent and talented, they say, she doesn’t have the charisma or the fire in the belly of her processor, Zehava Galon.
But if that were the problem, it would be natural that those whom Zandberg has disappointed would move slightly rightward, to the Labor Party, or slightly leftward, to one of the Arab parties. Their willingness to consider making an intergalactic leap from their compact, ideological and perhaps somewhat naive party to an instant party that’s a hodgepodge of ideas with a clear rightward slant shows that Zandberg isn’t the problem. The desire to stop Netanyahu simply overwhelms any other consideration.
In normal times, Meretz voters would see Gantz and his colleagues as right-wing in drag and would label them enemies of the people. They would savage anyone who would even raise the possibility of desertion. But these times are anything but normal. Netanyahu’s latest term, and what may very well be his designs for the future, have created a state of emergency. First let’s stop the avalanche and deal with the clear and present danger, and later we can go back to fighting the occupation and promoting peace and human rights.
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From this perspective, the argument between the advocates of an “obstructive bloc,” who justify a vote for Meretz, and supporters of the large-party theory, which requires a vote for Gantz, is merely theoretical. Meretz voters are drawn – like moths to a flame, their critics will argue – to the main arena, the place where the critical decision, Gantz or Netanyahu, will be made. They just have to be there. They feel compelled to vote against Netanyahu directly, in his face, and not via proxies. They’re being pushed toward Gantz by the logic of the famous bumper sticker from the 1999 election, which said that anyone, including a goat, would be better than Netanyahu.
Of course, long-time Meretz voters who vote Gantz will feel crushed if it turns out that their beloved party doesn’t top the electoral threshold. But their distress will be even greater if they vote Meretz and, whether it fails or survives, Gantz's Kahol Lavan ends up lacking the seat or two that could have made all the difference.