Ex-deputy IDF chief Yair Golan enters Labor party leadership race

Former Meretz MK says he wants to unify left-wing camp under a ‘new political framework,’ after incumbent leader Merav Michaeli failed to revitalize once-dominant faction

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Yair Golan attends a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, on February 6, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yair Golan attends a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, on February 6, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan announced Monday he will run in the Labor party leadership primaries set for May 28, declaring he will seek to unify left-wing groups in the country to create a “new political framework.”

Golan, who was a lawmaker for Meretz until the left-wing party failed to clear the electoral threshold in the November 2022 election, threw his hat in the ring a day after Labor announced it would hold the leadership contest to replace Merav Michaeli, as the once-dominant party struggles to revitalize itself.

“We have two tasks: To break down this government as quickly as possible and unify the [left-wing] camp. Unfortunately, Merav Michaeli enforces internal Labor primaries and is opposed to unifying the camp,” a statement released on Golan’s behalf read.

“We will be elected, unite in the process, and establish a new political framework that will unify the entire liberal-democratic camp under a new label,” the statement added.

Michaeli’s decision not to join forces with Meretz ahead of the last election led to its failure to enter the Knesset, to the detriment of the bloc of parties opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since then, Labor has consistently failed to cross the election threshold in periodic, though unreliable, polling.

Golan has recently been lauded as a national hero for his efforts to rescue partygoers fleeing the Hamas-led massacre at the Supernova Music Festival on October 7.

File: Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan speaks at a ceremony to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2016. (Gefen Reznik/IDF Spokesperson)

Throughout 2023, he was an outspoken critic of the government’s controversial judicial overhaul — which is currently on hold — and was called a left-wing traitor.

A former Northern Front and Home Front commander, Golan, 61, now a general in the reserves, was passed over for the position of IDF chief of staff in 2018 after delivering a speech in which he likened processes being seen in Israel to what he said were similar “disturbing processes” that took place in Europe in the run-up to the Holocaust.

He since appeared to double down on the observation, comparing far-right politicians to Nazis, drawing ire from right-wing lawmakers.

In successive elections from 2019-2020, Golan was a candidate on the left-wing Democratic Union’s electoral slates before joining Meretz ahead of the March 2021 elections.

He served as deputy economy minister during the shortlived, multi-party coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, then made a failed bid for his party’s leadership ahead of the last elections.

At the time, Golan also sought to unite the left under a single flag, telling The Times of Israel it was a “positive thing” and that Meretz had “to speak in the language of unification within the Israeli left.”

Sam Sokol and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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