Opinion

Israel's Left-wing Parties Must Join Forces

Tamar Zandberg and Avi Gabbay.
Ilan Assayag

One of the most important lessons of the recent Knesset election is the power of political mergers. The parties that joined forces benefitted and increased their strength, while parties that splintered and isolated themselves were punished by the electorate.

Kahol Lavan, a slate formed when several parties in the center and moderate right linked up with one another, won an impressive 35 seats. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the initiative to encourage a linkup of parties on the far right, thereby ensuring that he would be given preference in forming a coalition.

On the other hand, the parties that comprised the Joint List splintered due to battles over ego and lost three Knesset seats. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett broke with their previous party, Habayit Hayehudi, and failed to garner enough votes for Knesset representation. Gesher’s Orli Levi-Abekasis threw away two priceless seats, which could have toppled the Netanyahu government. Anyone who ran alone failed alone.

This lesson is particularly important in advance of the repeat election on September 17, and the first to understand that has been Netanyahu, who even before the September vote, was quick to co-opt Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party into his own Likud party. Netanyahu understands that this time too, the Israeli public will be swept into a battle between two large parties, which is why there is a danger that small parties in both blocs won’t pass the 3.25 percent minimum vote threshold. As a result, he absorbed Kahlon, despite internal criticism in Likud over the move.

I and many in the left-wing camp are concerned that the two left-wing Zionist parties have not learned this lesson. The Labor Party sank to a low of just six seats, while Meretz lost a fifth of its strength and barely crossed the threshold. But instead of announcing at this point that the two parties will run together in the upcoming election, some politicians in the parties are occupied with foolish battles over ego that don’t interest their electorates.

The parties that represent the Arab community have learned the lesson and have already announced that they again will join forces in a joint list, in a bid to boost the voter turnout among Israel’s Arab citizens. On the Zionist left, Labor and Meretz also have to run together, because that’s the only way for the Israeli left to increase its strength. In the current situation, both parties have been spending the final weeks of every election campaign competing for the same pool of votes.

Instead of a strong and united left-wing Zionist party that sets out to attract votes outside of its comfort zone – among economically marginal voters, in the Arab community and among Israeli voters abroad – Labor and Meretz have been competing with one another in the most critical weeks of every election campaign over which of the two will receive more votes in north Tel Aviv and the kibbutzim.

The time has come to put an end to this failed strategy. In the previous election campaign, significant pressure was applied on the leaders of the two parties to unite. But this time around, a joint run is a matter of life and death for them. If Meretz and Labor want to become stronger, grow and reach new audiences, they must create a new political brand – a proud and united Zionist left. Battles over ego and bureaucratic considerations must not be allowed to stand in the way.

“The polls indicate that a merger won’t change the picture,” some say, but such a response attests to a complete lack of understanding of the political reality in 2019. One cannot rely on opinion polling three months prior to Election Day, particularly in Israel’s chaotic circumstances.

The most reliable data were the actual election results on April 9, and the outcome was unequivocal: Labor was weakened, while Meretz was almost wiped out. Together they are worth at least 10 seats but separately, they are two small and uninfluential parties.

If the heads of the two parties again fail to run together, personally, I would consider not voting for either one of them, and I think many others on the left would do the same.

Noam Tibon is a reserve major general in the Israel Defense Forces.