Opinion |

Meretz’s Problem Is Not Identity Politics, It’s Tokenism

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Health Minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz.
Health Minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz.Credit: Emil Salman
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Ten measures of holy rage descended on Meretz, nine of them are now directed in verbal violence against MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, who overnight became the biggest problem of the remnants of the Israeli left.

If only a pinch of this militancy were occasionally applied to the greatest issues threatening the liberal-democratic agenda the party purports to represent – such as forging a more meaningful and equal partnership between Jews and Arabs – and not just issues of civil society.

Meretz chair Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz feels the pitchfork stabs in his back all too well. His party’s “anyone but Bibi” camp has aggressively tagged Rinawie Zoabi as the culprit in the disintegration of the “government of change” (as if Amichai Chikli, Idit Silman, Nir Orbach and the United Arab List did not exist) – and it was Horowitz, after all, who recruited her and guaranteed her a slot on the slate before the last election. So he does what many politicians do: He deflects the fire away from himself, to her, with all his might.

In an interview with Army Radio Thursday, after she voted with the United Arab List against the cannabis bill, he sounded more upset than he has over any other issue, including ratifying the apartheid in the West Bank.

“This is disgusting and dishonest,” he said. “It’s an act that really crosses all red lines, a despicable act.” He went on to suggest that Rinawie Zoabi is crazy: “There’s a deeper issue here. I won’t start with psychological analyses. ... She lost her way.” And for the grand finale: “We have no connection to this woman. ... This woman has no part of us and we have no part of her.”

The frustration of many Meretz voters is understandable – for them, keeping former Prime Minister and current opposition chair Benjamin Netanyahu away from the government is more important than the principles of the left, than Rinawie Zoabi’s deviation from party and coalition discipline and from her zigzags and cowardly position on LGBTQ issues.

But Horowitz’s extreme aggression toward her now (“this woman”) only because she voted her conscience, and in so doing also represented a large part of the Arab community, highlights an unpleasant truth: Meretz, certainly under Horowitz’s leadership, was and will be basically a Jewish party, unable to lead a real partnership between Jews and Arabs.

That is because such a partnership also requires knowing each other, respectful dialogue and negotiation, as well as painful compromises within the party’s Knesset members – and not only to decorate the party roster with Arab candidates as long as they don’t color outside the lines.

Many people are now blaming identity politics in Meretz, that is, reserving a slot specifically for an Arab woman. And so Horowitz’s conclusion from the affair is to cease efforts at diversity (“let them take whom they elect and not come complaining to me anymore that there are no Arabs,” he has threatened behind closed doors after he himself was parachuted into a reserved slot in the past.

This is a completely mistaken conclusion. Meretz’s problem is not identity politics, it’s tokenism.

The fact that the Meretz chair “gathered up” Rinawie Zoabi without knowing her well, and now aggressively renounces her, says more about him and about Meretz than it does about her.

Horowitz doesn’t have to go home for reserving a slot for an Arab woman. He has to concede leadership of the party, among other things, because he didn’t bother to show an interest in her from the beginning, and now he disowns her as quickly as he enlisted her. He doesn’t have what it takes to build genuine partnership between Jews and Arabs in the party.

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