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Galon wins Meretz leadership race, returning to head left-wing party after 3 years

Stepping out of retirement to run, Zehava Galon easily defeats Yair Golan, while outgoing party chief Nitzan Horowitz slips to unrealistic spot on Knesset list

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Zehava Galon seen in Tel Aviv after winning the Meretz party leadership race, August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Zehava Galon seen in Tel Aviv after winning the Meretz party leadership race, August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Zehava Galon beat Yair Golan on Tuesday to retake control of the left-wing Meretz party, in a primary that rewarded many sitting Knesset members with prominent positions on the electoral list.

Sitting lawmakers Mossi Raz, Michal Rozin, Ali Salalha, Golan — who also ran for the candidate list — and Gaby Lasky will round out the second to sixth spots behind Galon. Outgoing Meretz chief and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz took the seventh spot, but the party is currently polling between five and six seats in the November 1 election.

Galon led Meretz between 2013 and 2019, and was coaxed out of retirement to run against would-be reformer Golan, who wanted to realign Meretz as a “Zionist left” party focused on separating from the Palestinians, in contrast to Galon’s establishment view of Meretz as an “Israeli party” championing a broad base of progressive causes.

“The struggle for equality between Jews and Arabs is alive and well. And the struggle for gay rights, and the struggle to end the occupation and for peace, for social and economic justice, for the climate, for freedom of religion and democracy — these struggles are alive and well, and all these struggles are interdependent and interrelated,” Galon said in a victory speech on Tuesday night.

Inclusion of Arab Israelis under Meretz’s tent is one of the key reasons that Galon defines Meretz as an “Israeli party,” rather than a Zionist one. Past Meretz politicians, including outgoing minister Essawi Frej, who did not run in Tuesday’s primary, do not consider themselves Zionist.

However, the party’s Arab representation dipped in Tuesday’s results compared to the outgoing Knesset. Whereas the 2021 slate sported three Arab politicians, only Salalha — who is Druze, rather than Muslim like Frej and Meretz’s other Arab lawmaker, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi — landed a realistic spot. Rinawie Zoabi did not run in this year’s primary after she served as one of the key factors behind the collapse of the outgoing coalition.

Yair Golan attends a discussion held at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, on July 7, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement, Golan — who did not attend the Meretz party event Tuesday evening — congratulated Galon on her win, and said they have a “joint mission ahead of November 1.”

In her victory speech, Galon thanked Golan as well as Horowitz, who led Meretz through a rocky year that delivered it into its first government since 2000.

“Thank you for being the right man in the right place, and for taking the historic step that brought Meretz into the government,” said Galon, who has to date only led the party in the opposition.

In her Tuesday evening remarks, Galon added that she wants Meretz to join a government led by centrist leaders Prime Minister Yair Lapid or Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Meretz MKs and would-be MKs celebrate the party’s primary results at an event in Tel Aviv on August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Lapid needs a strong Meretz to his left, and Gantz needs a strong Meretz to his left,” said the newly crowned party chair.

Lapid congratulated Galon on her victory, and said her “values and political experience” are a strong “basis for cooperation in the next government that we will establish.”

Gantz also welcomed the news, declaring that their immediate task “is to prevent [Likud leader Benjamin] Netanyahu from [getting] 61 [seats], and then to establish a wide, stable and statesman-like party that will work for all citizens of Israel.”

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