Lackluster showing sparks calls for ‘soul searching’ in left-wing alliance

Tamar Zandberg and Itzik Shmuli lament Labor-Gesher-Meretz’s projected 7 seats, though others praise merger for saving all three factions from falling under threshold

Labor-Gesher party member Itzik Shmuli seen during a meeting outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Labor-Gesher party member Itzik Shmuli seen during a meeting outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Two prominent progressive lawmakers called for “soul searching” among the Israeli left on Tuesday following election results that appeared to give an alliance of the country’s major left-wing parties its worst showing in history.

Projections show the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance falling to just seven seats, down from the 11 MKs the parties had in the 22nd Knesset, when Meretz ran as part of a separate slate from Labor-Gesher.

The centrist Blue and White party is also projected to dip slightly and the bloc of center-left parties is expected to fall several seats shy of a majority, even with the support of the Arab-led Joint List, which is projected to surge to 15 seats.

Since the vote, the alliance has been wracked by speculation about it splitting up and some members joining the Netanyahu coalition.

“It’s not an easy day for us, for our camp, including Blue and White,” veteran Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said in an interview with Israel’s Army radio. “I can say that we failed. It’s not an easy day for our bloc, or for our party.”

“All of us, including of course the people who lead, need to do soul searching. That’s part of what’s expected from us as public leaders,” Zandberg said.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends a party conference in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

She noted that at least half of the public had voted for parties, including Yisrael Beytenu, opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

“If there aren’t 61 seats for this government, it means that for the third time in a row, the opposition bloc succeeded in preventing it,” Zandberg said.

Labor MK Itzik Shmuli said that the left “took a hard blow” in the vote.

“If we blame everyone else instead of looking inward, we’ll never come back to ourselves. It requires a little soul searching, and from there a look forward, and setting out on a new path,” Shmuli wrote on Twitter.

“Seven seats for three parties and only three for Labor is our worst ever result. If it had not been for the union I pushed for, the Zionist left would have been erased,” Shmuli wrote, referring to the January merger between the Labor, Meretz and Gesher parties, which likely kept all three above the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent.

Zandberg holds the fourth slot on the alliance’s electoral slate, and Shmuli is in fifth.

The heads of the Gesher, Labor and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

In September, Labor-Gesher garnered six mandates, and the Democratic Union, comprising Meretz, former Labor MK Stav Shaffir, and former prime minister Ehud Barak, won five.

The three dovish parties announced in mid-January that they would run on the joint ticket, hoping to buoy left-wing support and ensure that none of the parties fell under the Knesset threshold.

The result appears to mark another low point for the Labor party, which led the country for the first three decades of its existence. The party ran alone in April, winning six seats.

Despite the poor showing, Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz lauded the partnership with Labor-Gesher, and the alliance’s campaign, which he said refrained from mudslinging.

“True, we wanted to wake up today to different results and from how it looks now, we expect to have a lot of work ahead. But anyone who thinks we’ll bow our heads and despair doesn’t know me and doesn’t know our movement,” Horowitz said.

The heads of the Gesher, Labour and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Labor party chief Amir Peretz said: “True, we wanted and hoped for more, but right now it’s important to raise our heads and be proud. We still have a long way to go.”

“I’m glad that, unlike everyone else, we did not spread hatred. We presented serious plans for the benefit of all the Israeli public — Jewish, Arab, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, religious and secular, left and right,” Peretz said.

Peretz on Election Day and the day after criticized the centrist Blue and White party for the left’s poor showing, saying the faction led by Benny Gantz “turned on us.”

“We acted out of responsibility to ensure a large bloc that had a chance to form a government and set us on a new path. We acted responsibly. We signed a vote-sharing agreement with Blue and White, and backed [leader] Benny Gantz completely,” Peretz told party activists at the faction’s election-day headquarters on Monday night.

“But at critical moments [in the campaign, Blue and White] launched an irresponsible campaign against us,” he added.

“We’re the peace camp, we’re the equality camp,” maintained Peretz, vowing to continue to fight for the alliance’s values.

Gesher party head Orly Levy-Abekasis, formerly a member of Yisrael Beytenu and Likud, sparked speculation about her political future when she tweeted in the wake of the exit poll results that she “hopes to wake up tomorrow to a new era of action.”

Levy removed the post a short time later, after journalists asked if it signaled an openness to splitting off and joining the right coalition, in order to give it a majority.

“Nothing has changed, we’re continuing on our path,” a statement from her spokesperson said.

Channel 13 reported Tuesday that Peretz and Levy-Abekasis were not ruling out joining the right-wing bloc due to their frustrations with Blue and White over its campaign against the alliance, which they deemed as racist against Mizrahi Jews. Both Peretz and Levy-Abekasis are Mizrahi.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 3, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Channel 13 said that Levy-Abekasis, whose faction only holds one seat, would be more willing to jump ship if the right-wing religious bloc reaches 60 seats.

TV channels on Tuesday night put the right-wing bloc at 59 seats, and left-wing, including the Arab-led Joint List, at 54, both falling short of a majority of 61 seats. Yisrael Beytenu was projected to win seven seats, appearing to retain its position as kingmaker.

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