Benny Gantz’s entry into the election campaign sparked hope that after a decade in power, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government could finally be replaced. But alongside this hope for change, Gantz has created an existential threat to the three leftist parties – Labor, Hatnuah and Meretz.
In the last election, these three parties won a combined 29 Knesset seats. But according to the latest polls, most of their voters have switched to Gantz, and all three are hovering around the electoral threshold. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah has fallen below it, while Labor and Meretz are getting four to six seats apiece in most polls. If they continue leaking voters to Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael party, at least one of these historic left-wing parties may disappear. That means its supporters’ votes would be thrown away and the right would certainly have a blocking majority in the next Knesset.
There’s only one solution to this threat – Labor, Meretz and Hatnuah must all run on a joint ticket representing the Zionist left. The principles that would govern such a merger are simple and well known: support for a two-state solution; opposition to the nation-state law; ensuring the Supreme Court’s independence; freedom of expression for civil society organizations, artists and cultural institutions; and an end to religionization.
It sounds simple, but not to the party leaders. They insist there are “ideological gaps” between them, to quote Avi Gabbay, who, ever since his election as Labor’s chairman, has veered to the center and tried to get rid of the party’s “leftist” image. Livni says it’s important to her to have a “Jewish and democratic” state, whereas Meretz puts more emphasis on the democratic component. And Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg is only willing to countenance unity “under Meretz’s umbrella.”
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All this would be fine for a theoretical discussion of the question “what is the left.” It’s true that there are differences among the parties’ positions. For instance, Meretz participated in the Arab community’s demonstration against the nation-state law, whereas Labor and Hatnuah participated only in the Druze community’s demonstration; Meretz wants civil marriage; and so forth.
But this is an emergency. It’s more important for them to enter the 21st Knesset as a united bloc, and then they can have the ideological debates afterwards during meetings of their joint ticket’s Knesset members, rather than as former politicians who didn’t manage to get elected.
The sense of urgency is increased by the efforts to effect mergers among the extreme right (Habayit Hayehudi, National Union and the Kahanists), among the ruling parties (Likud might swallow Hayamin Hehadash, Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu) and among the centrist parties (Hosen L’Yisrael and Yesh Atid, bolstered by former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi). It would be a tragedy for generations to come if the right managed to unite while the left crumbled to ruins due to the “ideological gaps” within it, and also due to the personal battles over the question of who would head the joint ticket.
The obstacles are nontrivial. Yet right now, the left isn’t vying to head the government, but merely to give political expression to the views of a large segment of the population that may otherwise be pushed out of the political system entirely. Faced with Gantz’s surge in the polls and the possible mergers on the right, the left must unite.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel