Speaking to a packed hall in Tel Aviv, Meretz Knesset member Mossi Raz said on Thursday that his party, which he described as “social democratic” and the truest representative of the Israeli left, is the counterweight to
what he termed a politics of hatred espoused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s right.
“Netanyahu understood that hatred is popular. The easiest thing is to hate. People vote out of what they feel, not what they think. He understood that. He realized that in Israel if you separate Palestinians citizens and Jewish citizens, he will stay in power.”
Raz was speaking at an evening co-hosted by The Times of Israel with the Tel Aviv International Salon and Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Tamar Zandberg, the head of the Meretz party, was originally scheduled to speak but could not attend due to last-minute negotiations with the Labor Party over whether to form a unified party. Those negotiations ultimately failed.
Interviewed by The Times of Israel’s Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag in the latest one-on-one English language events ahead of the April 9 elections, Raz said that while in the United States and the United Kingdom the left is newly energized, Israel appears to be following the path of many European countries, where right-wing parties are making unprecedented gains on the basis of fear of immigrants and xenophobia.
“Look at what is going on internationally, In the United States and the United Kingdom. The left is waking up. But in Europe the left is weak and elections are all about hatred of asylum seekers, Muslims and Jews, hatred of people who are different. In Israel it’s about hatred of Palestinians in the occupied territories, hatred of Palestinian citizens of Israel, hatred of the left, hatred of the media and even hatred of Gidon Sa’ar,” he said to laughs from the audience.
According to Raz, Likud has become more extremist in recent years.
“In 1984 when [ultra-right wing politician] Meir Kahane spoke, representatives of the Likud left the plenary.”
Raz contrasted this behavior with Netanyahu’s recent brokering of an agreement that would allow the right-wing ultra-nationalist party Otzma Yehudit to enter the Knesset as an allied party with Jewish Home.
“This is the best example to show how hatred is part of their game today,” he said. “Meretz’s job is to fight that. We will work together, Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, to change things.”
Asked if he thinks Israeli democracy is in danger, Raz said that Israeli democracy is diminishing year by year.
Referencing Netanyahu’s recent strengthening of ties with countries like Chad, Brazil and Hungary, Raz said, “I understand why it is important to be in touch with problematic leaders. But Israel used to be popular with democratic states and not with undemocratic ones. More and more, the opposite is true. This is a problem for us. Part of this may be due to differences in the world, it’s not all because of us. But part of it is due to things we are doing and practicing every day and of course the occupation is the first of these.”
Raz, a former chairman of the left-wing organization Peace Now, said that the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a true peace partner but that Israeli leaders in recent decades have not tried hard enough to reach an agreement with him.
“There was the Arab League Peace Initiative in Beirut 17 years ago which was supported by 22 Arab states and 57 Islamic states. They agreed to peace and normalization with Israel, if Israel withdraws from all the occupied territories. There has been no answer from the Israeli government in 17 years.”
“We don’t even talk about it. We all know the price of a peace agreement. The price is returning to the 1967 borders with replacement of land of the same size. We have known this price since 1979 when Begin signed treaty with Egypt. After 52 years of occupation, not one prime minister in Israel has said ‘I agree.’”
Asked what he thought Israel’s biggest problem is that doesn’t relate to the Israeli-Arab conflict, Raz said the fact that many Israelis are leaving the country.
“Last year we knew the highest number of Israelis leaving Israel. Ok, we live in an era of globalization. People leave and people come. But the number of Israelis who returned from abroad is the lowest number in the past decade.”
“Educated Israelis are leaving. Why do they leave? Housing is one big reason, the high price of housing. But it’s also a fact that our liberal way of life is in question all the time. For instance, a few months ago the Knesset passed a law banning the opening of new mini-markets on Shabbat. You don’t feel the effects of this law in Tel Aviv but you feel it in other cities.”
“There’s the fact that people cannot marry the way they want. Or that there’s no public transportation on Saturdays. The world is global and people can see the alternatives and leave. Educated liberal Israelis are leaving.”
Asked whether he thought Meretz would lose votes in the upcoming elections, Raz said, “I think we are stable. Whether we get 4 or 5 or 6 mandates, it’s too early to say.”
Asked how Meretz can expect to change things when the left is likely to be a minority in the upcoming Knesset, Raz replied: “Sometimes you cannot change things because you are in a minority, but it is still necessary to speak the truth.”
He added that even in the opposition, Meretz had successfully steered Israeli policies on asylum seekers being sent to Rwanda, LGBT rights and helped put a stop to the detention of visitors to the country at the airport due to their political views.
“Israeli citizens should vote Meretz in order to defend our liberal way of life, defend human rights, stop hatred in all parts of Israeli society, as well as fight for a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians,” he added.