Meretz Must Lead by Example

Despite the limitations of the primary system, it is still the most democratic one for political parties, which is why Meretz must adopt this electoral system when choosing its leaders

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Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon speaking at a Meretz party conference in March 2017.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon speaking at a Meretz party conference in March 2017.Credit: David Bachar
Haaretz Editorial

Members of Meretz’s convention will meet Sunday to decide whether to bring forward the date of their party election for chairperson to February 2018 and cut short the term of current Chairwoman Zehava Galon, which is due to end in January 2019.

This is an attempt to oust Galon, who has been working to change the party’s electoral system to that of an open primary. Her ouster would not prevent her from again trying to push for change among members of a newly elected convention (to be elected in October).

However, she will be doing so as a chairwoman about whom the party has expressed a lack of confidence. Meretz’s current system is based on a party membership roll call held every four years, when party members select the 1,000 members of the Meretz convention. These convention members then select Meretz’s Knesset slate.

The members who are seeking to bring the leadership election forward say it is to align Meretz with other parties that are already prepared for a Knesset election – including Likud, Labor and Habayit Hayehudi. This is a problematic claim, since there has been no announcement about an early Knesset election. It’s also puzzling in light of the fact that the Meretz constitution provides that, as soon as a Knesset election is called, a date is set to elect a Meretz chairperson prior to the election.

Galon is only prepared to move up the internal party election if an open primary is held. Her main rival, MK Ilan Gilon, claims that in an open primary, only those with money can compete. But Galon argues that without a dramatic change in the party’s electoral system, Meretz will once again find itself around the electoral threshold (3.25 percent) and be in danger of not being represented in the next parliament.

Meretz’s internal battle on the question of whether to open its ranks to the broader public or leave the right to vote in the hands of a limited party elite is being conducted against the backdrop of the opposite dilemma being fought in the ruling Likud party. There is concern in Likud regarding the so-called New Likudniks, who are allegedly exploiting the primary system to carry out a “hostile takeover” of the party. Coalition Chairman David Bitan is promoting the establishment of acceptance committees for new members who are ideologically suspect.

It’s hard to miss the irony that the leader of a party on the left is fighting to abandon the idea of acceptance committees, which are historically identified with a left-wing worldview, while the largest party on the liberal right, which has prided itself on its openness, is toying with the idea of acceptance committees.

Despite the limitations of the primary system, it is the most democratic one – all the more so an open primary – encouraging public and political involvement. Meretz would do well to stop trying to put a halt to Galon’s worthy initiative to open up the party. This is the only way for it to continue to be a party that not only fights for democracy but also leads by example.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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