Head to Head / Newly Inducted MK Zahava Gal-On, Can a Depleted Meretz Effect Change?

Zahava Gal-On will be sworn in Monday as a Meretz MK, in place of former party head Haim Oron, who retired last week.

Zahava Gal-On will be sworn in today as a Meretz MK, in place of former party head Haim Oron, who retired last week. After missing the cut in the last elections, Gal-On has been writing a doctoral thesis at Bar-Ilan University and has been presenting a weekly program on the Knesset's television channel together with the journalist Hagai Segal.

Did you miss the Knesset? Did you miss this Knesset?

MK Zahava Gal-On
Nir Keidar

I must admit that I'm coming back to the Knesset with mixed feelings. I am happy to go back but I also understand that this is not the same Knesset as the one I knew. This is a Knesset that doesn't have a real commitment to defending democracy. And that doesn't have a commitment to defending human rights. During the past few months, I saw the flood of legislative activism regarding discriminatory and racist bills - the attempts to pass the loyalty laws, the establishment of parliamentary commissions of inquiry and the community acceptance committees law, whose only aim is to get political rivals to keep quiet. This Knesset incited against minorities and wants to harm academic freedom.

Unfortunately, something is rotten in the state of Denmark and it is important to warn against this. Suddenly the Knesset has become a strategic threat to the State of Israel. It's difficult for me to come back to this Knesset, but at the same time, I'm happy to be going back.

What do you think of the left-wing bloc in the present Knesset?

I sense in this Knesset a tendency of becoming [ideologically] defiled. I see MKs of all sorts who during the elections said they belonged to the center joining every bill of the extreme right. In the best case scenario, they don't show up during the vote on these laws. I see MKs who are neoliberals who accept steps so long as they don't affect tycoons and moguls. I see cabinet ministers and MKs who believe in expediency, and I mean especially Ehud Barak, who sit in the coalition even though it is heading toward disaster.

If that is so, what values will you bring with you to the Knesset?

I'm going to the Knesset from a place where the struggle for democracy and human rights is not a left-wing struggle. It is not a struggle that bleeding hearts deal with. In democracy there are rules to the game. The minority agrees to the rule of the majority but if the majority uses its power to persecute the minority, this kind of a majority doesn't have the legitimacy to rule. I see that phenomenon not only in the Knesset but also in state authorities: Cabinet ministers trample indiscriminately on rulings of the High Court of Justice that deal with protecting [the downtrodden]. The directives of the High Court have turned into recommendations only, such as the court's directive that the communities on the border with Gaza be safeguarded.

Instead of applying the directives, they immediately lash out at the Supreme Court and initiate bills aimed at restricting the court. Does someone not understand that putting human rights into effect costs money? I ask myself how we reached a situation like this. I remember how Menachem Begin fought for human rights. Where is Begin's party today? Every struggle to protect minorities becomes political. This bothers me.

Does a Meretz with only three MKs in the opposition have the ability to act, particularly since in some of the "loyalty oath-citizenship" battles it was unable to put together a unified front?

I am not in the position of a political analyst and I cannot say how terrible everything is. I am not partner to the feeling of gloom that this Knesset has not succeeded in fulfilling its objective as a protector and defender of equality. This blow concerning the [right-wing] legislation has created an opportunity for the left, a great opportunity.

We have to put an end to this type of politics of fear in which they threaten and frighten us. There is a way to create a leadership of hope and not of fear. I believe that it's possible to create hope. We have to say that we are not afraid, despite the strange inquisition of the government.

What do you have on your agenda as an MK who is returning after two years?

From here I shall go on a struggle to end the occupation, to evacuate the settlements, a struggle for solidarity and social justice. We see that so far the government has not succeeded in solving the problems of the social workers, but alongside this, it continues to increase the defense budget. These issues are connected and cannot be separated. The regime is operating today through politics of fear.

And can all this be done by a forgotten and depleted party? Does Meretz have any kind of chance in the next elections, or is it necessary to set up a new social-democratic organization?

I'm entering the Knesset in Haim Oron's stead. He vacated his seat for me in noble fashion. It is no secret that Meretz suffered a harsh blow in the last elections. The parliamentary left has diminished, but I propose not to lose anyone. We have seen before parties that were eulogized and then the color returned to their cheeks. Our central aim is that there should be a bloc of 61 MKs here who are not from the right. In a bloc of that kind, the moral left has a place.

The aim is to raise the percentage of participation of center-left voters and set up an obstructive bloc. If people say that joining together parties will raise the number of voters, I shall support that. If it turns out that running alone would be more effective, I shall support going alone. It is too soon to decide.