Meretz chief decries Labor-Gesher merger, says his party only option on the left

Horowitz tells opponents of Netanyahu to ‘not waste their breath’ on Levy-Abekasis and Labor’s Peretz; meantime, Peretz calls PM ‘a burden’ and says he won’t sit in his coalition

Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz, center, attends a protest of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz, center, attends a protest of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz said Saturday that Labor Party leader Amir Peretz had repeated the mistakes of his predecessor, Avi Gabbay, when he merged with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, and that Peretz had wrecked the chances of forming a bloc of left-wing parties.

Peretz on Thursday announced the alliance with Gesher, which failed to enter the Knesset in the April elections, seemingly marking a rightward shift for his party. Gabbay stepped down in June after leading Labor to its worst-ever electoral showing and entertaining an offer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join his prospective coalition, a move met with heavy internal criticism.

Horowitz said that Peretz, who was elected party leader in early July, had similarly led the party astray.

“Instead of a large merger [of left-wing parties], he chose a small safeguard, turning to the right in the direction of the Netanyahu government. I’m telling opponents of Netanyahu to not waste their breath on Peretz and Orly Levy. They’re going to be the first to desert [the left] for the Netanyahu government. A vote for Labor is a vote for Netanyahu,” Horowitz said at an event in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana.

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Horowitz called on Labor followers disaffected by Peretz’s move to vote Meretz.

“Now there’s only one party to the left of Blue and White and that is Meretz. We’re the only ones committed to not sitting with Netanyahu, no matter the price,” he said.

Meanwhile, Peretz stressed at a separate Saturday event that he would not sit in a Netanyahu government.

“We won’t sit with him while he’s facing allegations and an indictment, and we won’t enter a government with the nation-state law, the immunity laws and racist laws,” Peretz said.

Netanyahu is facing indictment, pending a hearing, on fraud and breach of trust charges in three corruption cases, and on a bribery charge in one of them.

The prime minister has also been behind a number of legislative pushes that have sparked controversy in Israel and abroad. Following his short-lived April 9 elections victory, Netanyahu sought to form coalition agreements with other parties that contained stipulations to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister. These agreements were also said to include an “override clause” demanding backing for legislation which would neuter the Supreme Court by reversing its right to overturn parliamentary legislation and decisions it regards as unconstitutional.

The passage of such an “override clause” would wreak what has been called the greatest constitutional change in Israeli history, with vast potential impact on the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy, denying the courts the capacity to protect Israeli minorities and uphold core human rights. It would also, not incidentally, mean the court could not reverse Knesset-approved immunity for Netanyahu. The court’s obligation to maintain oversight over the legislative and executive branches is enshrined in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, approved by the Knesset, as a central feature of Israeli democracy.

The nation-state law, which Peretz referenced, passed in 2018 and enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” Critics say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens. It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members — many of whom serve in the Israeli army — say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

Peretz also said: “Netanyahu has become a burden to Israel. He neglected the periphery, abandoned minorities in Israel, and someone who is not ready to give equality to minorities in society loses their moral validity to lead the country.”

Peretz made the comments Saturday at a meeting of local leaders and activists from the Bedouin community in northern Israel, Maariv reported.

On Thursday, Peretz presented the merger with Gesher as a boost to Labor’s socially minded policies, describing Levy-Abekasis as “a pioneering woman, with a broad worldview of social justice… of the state’s responsibility to the fate of the elderly, the handicapped, young couples” and others.

Head of the Gesher Political party MK Orly Levy Abekasis at the Central Elections Committee, where political parties running for a spot in the upcoming Israeli elections, arrive to present their slates, Tel Aviv, February 21, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Levy-Abekasis, a former Knesset member with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party led by Avigdor Liberman, split off to form her own party, Gesher, earlier this year but failed to make it into the Knesset in April.

Though she largely focuses on social issues, the daughter of former Likud foreign minister David Levy has remained largely identified with the right, and the merger was largely seen as a move by Labor to push for more support from the political center rather than from Meretz, which is further to the left.

Gesher is expected to receive three seats in the joint slate’s first 10 spots, Channel 12 news reported. It is not clear where exactly party members will be placed.

At the press conference in Tel Aviv, Levy-Abekasis said she had received other offers from right and left but “when the offer came from Amir it felt natural to me to bring down the walls and look at what unites and connects us… it’s time we let go of the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ and come together for the good of the country.”

The centrist Blue and White party welcomed the Labor-Gesher merger, saying it would “prevent thousands of votes from being lost.”

It added that after the elections it would seek to invite both Labor and the ruling Likud party — without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — to a unity government.

From left: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party at its official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A Blue and White-Gesher merger was ruled out after Levy-Abekasis demanded to be No. 5 on the joint slate and to receive two other slots, down the list, demands that the party couldn’t meet, Channel 12 reported Tuesday.

Likud merely said of the merger that it “continues not to intervene in how the left divides its votes.”

However, Israel Democratic Party leader Ehud Barak lamented the Labor-Gesher merger, saying it could mark the “nail on the coffin” for the storied center-left political party he formerly chaired.

“I hope it’s still reversible, but the union could be the nail in the coffin of the Labor Party,” said Barak. The union with Levy-Abekasis “is essentially giving up on replacing the government and is opening the door for joining up with Netanyahu,” he added.

A Channel 12 report this week cited senior officials in both Labor and Meretz as saying Barak’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, who is a suspect in a US sex trafficking scandal, had significantly lowered their parties’ chances of joining forces with him.

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