For a Meretz-Barak Union

Democratic Israel Chairman Ehud Barak and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz.
Tomer Appelbaum, Corrina Kern / Reuters

The head of Democratic Israel, Ehud Barak, responded Tuesday to the call of Meretz MK Esawi Freige and apologized to Israel’s Arab community as a whole and the families of the Arab citizens who were shot dead by security forces in October 2000, when Barak was prime minister.

“I take responsibility for what happened during my tenure as prime minister, including the October 2000 events,” he told Kan Bet public radio in an interview. “There is no place for protesters to be killed by security and police forces of Israel, their state. I express my regret and apologies to the families and to the Arab community.”

Barak’s apology is important. One hopes it will help heal the Arab community’s still-open wound. It is also a necessary step toward repairing the broken relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. The door that Barak has opened must remain open, because it offers the only path to forming a genuine democratic alternative to the divisive, inciting right-wing regime headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Barak said exactly what Freige, as an Arab Israeli citizen, wanted to hear from him, as he wrote in an op-ed in Haaretz (in Hebrew) Tuesday. After the apology Freige said Barak “has opened the door for dialogue with the Arab community, and it is our responsibility to help him open that door and not slam it in his face.” He added, “Now it is on us to do everything we can to form a strong center-left bloc.”

Barak and Freige are right. The efforts to unite the left-wing parties must not cease. Without a strong center-left bloc there’s no chance for an electoral upset. An alliance is the only way to prevent a situation in which one of these parties fails to meet the electoral threshold, rendering large numbers of votes worthless. Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz has said that Labor’s electoral alliance with Gesher, the party of Orli Levi-Abekasis, precludes an alliance with Meretz or with Barak’s party. We can only that Peretz and Levi-Abekasis will reconsider, and turn their tie-up into the first for the center-left bloc, not the last.

But even if that does not happen, a union between Meretz and Barak’s Democratic Israel is still possible. The high electoral threshold leaves no room for ideological puritanism. The left-wing bloc must learn from the bitter experience of the Arab parties, which lost one-fourth of their power in the April election, after dissolving the Joint List. In any case, the ideological differences between Barak and Meretz are insufficient to justify running separately, certainly not when one considers the greater objective, which is to put an end to Netanyahu’s corrupt and corrupting regime. Barak and Meretz should unite now.

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