After years of being crushed by the steamroller of right-wing, nationalist incitement that Benjamin Netanyahu has built and perfected during his far too many years in power, Israel’s democratic bloc is finally starting to stand tall and fight back. The joint ticket formed by the Meretz party, Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel and Labor lawmaker Stav Shaffir, to be called the Democratic Union, is another important piece of the resistance puzzle that is gradually being assembled on the left side of the political map.
The left can’t afford to lose votes in the critical battle it is waging to prevent Israeli democracy from disappearing. Even if there are ideological differences among the joint ticket’s members, and even if they don’t see eye to eye on every issue on the agenda, it’s important to remember that they are facing a prime minister concerned solely with his own political survival, one who won’t hesitate to use any means to achieve this goal, including pushing avowed Kahanists into a right-wing joint ticket.
Barak’s apology this week to Israeli Arabs in general and the families of the Arab citizens killed in October 2000 in particular – even if it stemmed from the narrow political consideration known as getting across the electoral threshold – is important. It paved the way for the joint ticket with Meretz, but more importantly, it proved that the Arab community carries significant weight on the left and its voters can’t be ignored.
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The relatively swift formation of the Democratic Union can be attributed to another union on the left – the joint ticket formed by Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz and Gesher party leader Orli Levi-Abekasis. After Peretz and Levi-Abekasis rejected the possibility of uniting with any other parties, it was clear to Barak and Meretz that a three-way joint ticket was off the table, so they had to strive for a bilateral partnership.
The fact that Shaffir was one of the driving forces behind the Barak-Meretz joint ticket, coupled with Labor lawmaker Itzik Shmuli’s remarks in favor of a broader joint slate, shows the risk Peretz has taken both among his party’s members and his voters. His union with Levi-Abekasis was a welcome move, but it wasn’t supposed to block the formation of a large, strong, democratic left bloc that would reflect the growing resistance to Netanyahu’s irresponsible policies. Peretz and Levi-Abekasis must recognize the urgency of the moment and join the rearguard battle for Israeli democracy.