Meretz chairperson Zehava Galon said the reason for her and MK Ilan Gilon’s decision to withdraw from the race for party leadership was that many Meretz members she spoke to “want a new leadership.”
There’s no dispute that opening the party’s ranks to new candidates, which Galon initiated, risking her political future in an admirable way, brought thousands of new registered members to Meretz. They may inject life into the party, which for years has been at a standstill and suffering from uninspired management. Galon has much to her credit; her positions are clear and firm. In her aspiration to advance the peace process she knew no compromise, nor in her struggle to fix a dysfunctional democracy, which is coming apart.
Galon was a bold leader as a parliamentarian during the years she served in the Knesset, and deserves praise for her decision to quit the race, a rare move in Israeli politics, which should be emulated in other parties.
But Galon’s withdrawal, which was described as a jolt and a shock, doesn’t reflect merely a personal struggle against her rivals who remain in the race – Tamar Zandberg, Avi Buskila, Avi Dabush, Imri Kalman and Ophir Paz – but an ideological dispute over the direction of the party that represents the Israeli left.
In contrast to Galon, who was seen as a political “purist” opposed to a pragmatic partnership with right-wing parties, Zandberg said she didn’t rule out joining a future left-center government, even if Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a member of it. Galon roundly criticized Zandberg for this stance, calling it “flushing ideology down the toilet.”
The registration for membership in Meretz, which now numbers 31,000 people, shows there’s a large public that supports its positions and is fed up with the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government, which seeks to annex the occupied territories and acts to destroy democracy, respect for state institutions and the rule of law in Israel.
The leader who succeeds Galon in Meretz must act resolutely to gain more voters and cultivate Meretz as a magnet for liberals who want a free, peace-seeking Israel that moves to end the occupation and ensure equal rights to all its citizens, Jewish and Arab.
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The left-center parties – the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid – are issuing statements intended to appeal to the right. This gives Meretz a chance to broaden its base and address voters who are disappointed with Avi Gabbay and Yair Lapid’s positions. But the expansion must not come at the expense of principles, without which Meretz has no reason to exist. If after the next elections Meretz has a chance of joining the government, it must do so only if it can wield influence and advance its policy – like Habayit Hayehudi in the incumbent government.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.