Labor leader Michaeli, who refused Meretz merger, blames Lapid for left’s demise

Poor election showing shrinks left-wing representation from 13 to 4 seats in 25th Knesset; Michaeli accuses PM of ‘irresponsibly’ pushing Yesh Atid in front of bloc

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

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli casts her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, during the Knesset elections on November 1, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli casts her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, during the Knesset elections on November 1, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shortly after left-wing stalwart Meretz was knocked out of the Knesset for the first time in its 30-year history on Thursday, center-left Labor party chief Merav Michaeli blamed the “difficult” election, which also saw her party cut down to four seats, on Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

“Lapid, who last year boasted that he was the one who saved Meretz, ran a campaign calling to vote for the biggest party — this is what brought down and eliminated Meretz. This is what almost wiped out the Labor party as well,” Michaeli, who leads what is now the Knesset’s smallest faction, told a press conference in Tel Aviv.

“The main party in the bloc ran an irresponsible campaign,” she added of Lapid and his centrist Yesh Atid, which picked up 24 seats, second only to Likud at 32.

Michaeli’s rebuke came despite the fact that she had adamantly refused to join hands with “sister party” Meretz for a joint run in Tuesday’s election, arguing that the two parties were strong enough to pass on their own merit and that it was not Labor’s role to “save” Meretz. Such an alliance would undoubtedly have netted the two parties more seats than Labor’s four.

While Meretz will not be in Israel’s 25th Knesset, Michaeli and Lapid will both be in the opposition, as the prime minister conceded Thursday to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud’s right-religious bloc clinched 64 seats, enough to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. Its path to victory was smoothed by Labor’s refusal to run a joint slate with Meretz, which fell narrowly below the 3.25% Knesset threshold, wasting 150,696 votes.

Though Michaeli heaved the blame on Lapid’s shoulders, some of her fellow party members did not seem convinced. In partial answer to reported calls from within Labor for Michaeli to be replaced in light of the poor election results and strategic mistake to shun a joint run with Meretz, Michaeli said the party would “consider moving up primaries.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to supporters as the results of exit polls in national elections are announced, in Tel Aviv, on November 2, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“As I have responsibility for saving the Labor party in the previous election,” when Michaeli was credited with breathing new life into a party polling below the threshold, “I have a responsibility for its poor achievement this time,” she said.

But not all members of her party saw Michaeli taking responsibility for the left’s collapse from 13 seats between Labor and Meretz in the outgoing Knesset, to four in the one to be sworn-in.

“Leaders make mistakes. A leader should know how to take responsibility and not blame others who made a mistake,” tweeted Yaya Fink, number seven on Labor’s candidate slate. “I’ll say this: We made a mistake by not saving Meretz and I’m sorry for that.”

“Each of us, each of us, had a role to play in the battle; my job was to keep the Labor party safe,” Michaeli said.

The Labor leader also absorbed criticism from within her party for not playing up its precarious position near the electoral threshold, in a so-called “gevalt” campaign designed to secure more votes.

Meretz party supporters react as election exit polls are announced, in Jerusalem November 1, 2022. (Flash90)

The tactic is routinely employed by politicians — including during this election by Meretz, Likud, the majority-Arab Hadash-Ta’al, and the Arab nationalist Balad (another anti-Netanyahu party that split off from Hadash-Ta’al and fell below the threshold, wasting 138,093 votes) — to mobilize voters.

“We worried about Meretz, therefore I refused a gevalt campaign,” Michaeli said on Thursday. “In this room, there was rare pressure upon me to employ a gevalt tactic and I refused because it was clear to me that it could hurt Meretz,” she elaborated, with the implication that Labor would draw voters away from its left-flank partner.

Lapid didn’t immediately comment on Michaeli’s allegations and a request for a response from his office was refused. Politicians from his Yesh Atid party, however, rushed to attack the Labor leader for placing the blame on their party’s shoulders.

Energy Minister Karin Elharrar tweeted that “being a strong woman is admitting your mistakes,” shortly after Michaeli’s statement aired.

“In elections, voters either vote for you or don’t vote for you, depending on their point of view. Yesh Atid did not work against [Michaeli]. We acted against the Netanyahu bloc,” tweeted party MK Vladimir Beliak, who also called her refusal to link with Meretz “arrogant” and wrote that she needed to “take responsibility.”

Bitter blame has been thrown around the outgoing so-called change bloc, which was diverse in ideology but united to drive Netanyahu from power for the first time in 12 years.

Shortly after exit polls were announced on Tuesday evening, an unnamed coalition official reportedly called Lapid a “cannibalistic pig” for not shoring up his bloc. Real-time results indicated that Yesh Atid grew at the sake of its coalition partners.

Lapid reportedly ordered his canvassers to lay off Meretz and Labor voters last week. However, additional strategic missteps were laid at the bloc leader’s feet, including failure to insist on and incentivize a Labor-Meretz merger and to keep the majority-Arab Joint List together as a bulwark against a growing Netanyahu-led bloc, along with criticism that he did not sufficiently arrange surplus votes agreement within his bloc and for Hadash-Ta’al.

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