Labor, Meretz agree to surplus vote-sharing deal, as parties urged to merge

Joint statement by left-wing parties stresses urgency of preventing the far-right from entering the government in upcoming election, but Meretz later says deal not signed yet

Labor's Ram Shefa (R) and Meretz's Michal Rozin sign a vote-sharing deal between the parties on August 31, 2022 (Courtesy)
Labor's Ram Shefa (R) and Meretz's Michal Rozin sign a vote-sharing deal between the parties on August 31, 2022 (Courtesy)

The Labor and Meretz parties announced Wednesday that they had agreed to sign a surplus vote-sharing agreement ahead of the November 1 Knesset elections, amid mounting pressure on the left-wing parties to join forces fully and run on a combined slate.

A joint statement by both parties quoted Labor faction leader MK Ram Shefa and Meretz’s counterpart, MK Michal Rozin, as saying the upcoming elections were critical to preventing the far-right from being brought into the government by Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We will act to thwart a government formed by the Kahanist-messianic side, which is planning the end of Israeli democracy, and we will continue the change we have started,” said Shefa, referring to the outgoing coalition — an amalgamation of eight ideologically diverse parties, including Labor and Meretz — which replaced Netanyahu last year after 12 years and was self-branded the “change government.”

Rozin said that the upcoming election was “critical for the country’s future” and that her party would “do everything that’s needed to prevent Kahanism from rising to power.”

That was a reference to the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction of the far-right Religious Zionism party, and to the faction’s leader, MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a follower of the ideology of racist rabbi Meir Kahane.

An hour after the joint statement, Meretz sent out a clarification from Rozin that no deal had been signed, but rather the parties had “reached an agreement in principle” that they will sign a vote-sharing deal if they don’t merge by the September 15 deadline for presenting the parties’ electoral slates.

Pressure has been mounting on Labor and Meretz to go further and run on a merged electoral slate, with the goal of ensuring neither of them falls below the electoral threshold.

Then-Meretz leader Zehava Galon, left, speaks to thousands of Israeli left-wing activists during a rally in Tel-Aviv on May 27, 2017; Labor leader Merav Michaeli attends a conference in Rishon Lezion on July 19, 2022. (Gili Yaari/Flash90; Flash90)

While freshly reelected Meretz leader Zehava Galon, whose party is polling at between four and six seats, is in favor of a joint run, Labor leader Merav Michaeli — polling at five — is staunchly against the team-up. Four seats is the minimum for entering the Knesset, meaning both parties could potentially fail to make it into the Knesset, greatly benefiting Netanyahu’s rival bloc.

Last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid — the centrist leader of the bloc supported by Labor and Meretz — urged the parties to unify their slates before the September 15 party list deadline, in order to best prevent the return to power of right-wing political rivals.

Lapid said that it is “incredibly important” the two left-wing parties run together, because if one of the parties running alone fails to pass the electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset, “it will bring back Netanyahu and Ben Gvir.”

Illustrative: Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Galon said on Saturday that “if I see that one of the parties — and this doesn’t have to be Meretz — may not pass the electoral threshold, I’ll ask to meet with Merav [Michaeli]. We’re friends. We’re smart women and we have responsibility and judgment.”

However, Labor MK Efrat Rayten later seemed to dismiss such a prospect, telling Channel 12 news that “a union with Meretz isn’t on the table.”

Vote-sharing agreements, which are widely used in Israeli elections, allow parties to ensure that extra votes they win that don’t add up to a full Knesset seat do not go to waste. Instead, a party can transfer those votes to another party through a special agreement.

Under the law, the combined leftover votes go to the party closest to winning another seat — and are often sufficient to add that seat to its tally, making the votes potentially decisive in a tight race.

Such deals only count if both parties pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of all votes.

Wednesday’s potential deal was the first to be announced ahead of the election. The deadline for signing such an agreement is October 21.

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