Meretz-Labor alliance cheered as new hope for left, but some decry merger
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Meretz-Labor alliance cheered as new hope for left, but some decry merger

MKs praise move to unite peace camp, but Arab Meretz member Frej says low placement on slate and inclusion of former top general a ‘slap’ to Jewish-Arab partnership

Members of the new Labor-Gesher, Meretz alliance, according to their placement on the slate (left to right, top to bottom): Labor head Amir Peretz, Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis, Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz, Meretz's Tamar Zandberg, Labor's Itzik Shmuli, Labor's Merav Michaeli, former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, Meretz's Ilan Gilon, Labor's Omer Barlev (Flash90)
Members of the new Labor-Gesher, Meretz alliance, according to their placement on the slate (left to right, top to bottom): Labor head Amir Peretz, Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis, Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz, Meretz's Tamar Zandberg, Labor's Itzik Shmuli, Labor's Merav Michaeli, former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, Meretz's Ilan Gilon, Labor's Omer Barlev (Flash90)

Members of Labor-Gesher and Meretz on Monday welcomed the news of a new alliance between the parties, hailing it as ushering in a new hopeful period for their peace-seeking, progressive agenda.

“The partnership between Meretz and Labor-Gesher lights the flame of hope for a just society and a principled and peace-seeking nation,” Meretz MK Ilan Gilon tweeted. “Zionism, socialism and fraternity are back on the map, big-time.”

The parties announced Monday that they would merge ahead of the March vote, unifying two flagships of the Israeli left. The alliance, which also includes the bread-and-butter Gesher Party, came after several false starts, and was driven by fears that the parties could fall below the threshold for entering the Knesset if they were forced to compete for votes.

Labor MK Merav Michaeli was also upbeat, saying: “A joint run of the Zionist left… will save the country and keep it Zionist and democratic.”

Labor’s Itzik Shmuli praised the party leaders for “showing great responsibility” in coming to “a dramatic and important deal.” He said the decision to merge the center-left Labor and hard-left Meretz was not an easy one but a “sober” one, and one that was “required by circumstances.”

Then-Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg (R) and MK Ilan Gilon are seen outside the party’s polling station in Jerusalem on February 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Shmuli has said the alliance should be a “technical bloc” that could potentially separate soon after the elections, a common practice among parties with differing ideologies.

The decision came after marathon talks between Labor leader Amir Peretz, who will lead the list, and Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz, who will be placed third, after Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abukasis.

“This is a significant move for the 2020 election, which will ensure the ability to form a government of change and hope,” Peretz and Horowitz said in a statement. They said the new, currently unnamed alliance will serve as “the social heart and diplomatic compass for the next government after the end of the Netanyahu era.”

Levy-Abukasis, a formerly right wing lawmaker, also defended the merger as necessary, though she expressed her personal misgivings about allying with Meretz. Speaking to Army Radio, Levy-Abekasis acknowledged deep differences in “world views,” but said of Peretz: “Sometimes you need to consider your partner who is facing immense pressure [from the left-wing bloc].”

Meretz member and former MK Issawi Frej expressed anger at his placement at no. 11 on the new slate, saying it was “a slap in the face” to Meretz’s Arab supporters.

Frej, who was instrumental in the formation of the Democratic Camp (a union between Meretz, the Green Party and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party) prior to the September election, was supportive of the alliance in principle, but complained of IDP’s Yair Golan being placed seventh on the list thanks to a previous deal with Meretz, while he was pushed back.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej attends a Economic committee meeting at the Knesset on July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The deal with Yair Golan is a slap in the face” to Jewish-Arab partnership, he said. “It’s a statement that in the end Meretz is no different from Blue and White in its adoration of generals and its preference for them over strengthening the values of the left.”

Frej added: “There are many generals at the head of the center-left bloc. But Meretz was the only party that tried to build a Jewish-Arab partnership. We mustn’t throw it away.”

He called for Meretz officials to approve the merger but not the deal with Golan.

Parties have until January 15 to submit their final slates for the upcoming election.

Another unhappy Democratic Camper was Green Party leader Stav Shaffir, who had been the Democratic Camp’s no. 2 — behind Horowitz — but who is now poised to find herself outside the Knesset after the election, as she is not part of the new alliance.

Though officials in both parties did not rule out the former activist leader joining later, the odds appeared low.

MK Stav Shaffir of the Democratic Camp party holds a press conference, September 15, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

“Some would call it an attempted political hit job,” she told Army Radio Monday morning. “At no point was I presented with an offer and there was no serious discussion.”

She said she was “happy about this union, I’ve fought for a year for this union… but I’m upset that this alliance may not bring the utmost voters it could due to score-settling between politicians.”

In a separate statement Shaffir said “A union that looks like a list of job placements only pushes the public away.”

She said she would consider her position in the coming days and decide on her political future. An independent run by Shaffir is widely seen as having near no chance of success.

In recent days it was widely reported that Meretz had offered Shaffir the fifth spot on its list ahead of the next election, which would have placed her at no. 11 on the joint slate, but she refused.

Meretz’s alliance with the Green Party and the Israel Democratic Party failed to significantly boost the party in September over its results in the first round of elections in April, with the Democratic Camp taking in 5 Knesset seats, one seat more than its result when it ran alone in the first national poll.

Polls have shown both Labor-Gesher and Meretz hovering at between four and six Knesset seats each, in danger of falling below the 3.25% threshold of total votes (representing four seats) required to enter the Knesset.

Labor chief Peretz had announced his plans to unite with Meretz at a Labor party directorate meeting Sunday evening. “We have no choice but to unite,” he told the delegates. Peretz had reportedly been under intense pressure from fellow Labor MKs to move forward with the merger in light of the latest polls.

Peretz has in the past expressed hesitation regarding a Labor-Democratic Camp merger, worrying the move would scare away potential right-leaning voters from his socioeconomic-minded party.

But there has been no evidence that a significant number of new voters placed ballots for Labor following its merger with Gesher: the party won 20,000 more votes in the September election, but retained an equal number of seats (6) to those won in April.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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