Sophie’s Choice for Zionist Left

Israelis who believe in peace face a tough dilemma: Vote for the Zionist Union in order to boot Netanyahu out of power, or vote with their conscience - for Meretz.

Olivier Fitoussi

Precisely because hope is now possible, after years of despair and bitter underdog behavior – in 2013 we went to the polls solely to determine which parties would be in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition – the leftist camp finds itself riven and troubled on the eve of the election.

It’s Sophie’s Choice: the strategic Zionist Union, or the ideological Meretz? And some are even permitting themselves to cling to pure ideology, or individualist folklore, like those Jews who are voting for the Joint List, because Netanyahu’s government doesn’t endanger their uniqueness, but makes it stand out all the more.

On one hand, there’s the desire to oust Netanyahu – to stop the spread of the plagues of nationalism, isolation, intimidation and playing the victim. Before any substantive decisions related to the inevitable clash between Zionist and democratic values, before Peace Now and the injustice that cries out to the heavens, we must stop the engine of the machine that operates all these pressing evils in order to perpetuate its rule.

In recent decades, the right has known how to display resourcefulness, commitment and pragmatism when needed. The settlers took over Likud, and thereby harnessed an entire country, with all its resources and values, to their enterprise. Thus they cultivated public belief in the equation that settlements equal modern Zionism. At Sunday’s right-wing rally, I heard young, skullcap-clad men – who constituted a majority of the tens of thousands who attended – chatting among themselves: “Bibi is trash, but there’s no choice, we have to elect him.”

And these are the materials of which victory is made: resourcefulness, commitment, mobilization behind the leader of the camp – any leader – even if he heads the party of Golda Meir.

And that is the flip side: voting for Meir’s Labor Party, with its occupied territories and its fathers of the settlement movement – Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Yisrael Galili and Yigal Allon. The party of the Histadrut labor federation and the fixers, where everyone who enters it – no matter how daring, promising and impressive – was sunk by the primaries into the mire of deals and alliances. A party that hasn’t managed to run a campaign worthy of the name against one of the most wearying prime ministers in Israeli history.

Meretz is the natural home not only of leftists, but also of liberals, secular people and the LGBT community. In addition, it should have been the natural home of Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin), the weak and the oppressed. Ran Cohen’s public housing law helped the poor – Mizrahi and Ashkenazi alike – more than any poetic outcry by Arye Dery, the millionaire who heads the Shas party.

Meretz is an asset to Israeli society, and all the more so to its secular members, who want a Western, democratic, peace-seeking state. And yet, despite its current Knesset members’ voluminous, excellent legislation, votes for Meretz today rest more on the legendary glory of its founders, its heritage and its historic role than on the place it currently fills or will fill in the future.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon is the Knesset’s most outstanding MK. No politician is more decent or more right than she. But the truth is that Meretz, in its current incarnation, is characterized by excessive niceness and politeness, a certain sterility, that contradicts its subversive DNA. The campaign of pity that Meretz has been running recently, which asks its voters to prevent the catastrophic scenario of its erasure from the political map, is effective, but it reflects the status of a victim seeking protection, whereas in the past Meretz was the protector.

By this point, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog ought to have been drawing seats from a popular Meretz, just as Netanyahu is preying on the party of the settler rock star Naftali Bennett. The choice between the two isn’t easy, for reasons both good and bad. One’s stomach tightens. The only absolutely right move is to convince Yesh Atid voters to switch to Zionist Union and try to pull Joint List voters over to Meretz. But that’s an evasion. The truth is it’s Sophie’s Choice.