'Bibi, Ben Gvir and Smotrich -- Kahanists and Bibi fanatics'

Meretz leader denounces merged far-right slate as ‘alliance of thugs’

Zehava Galon bashes Netanyahu-brokered deal between Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism, entertains joint left-wing ticket with Labor

Meretz leader Zehava Galon addresses supporters after the announcement of the left-wing party's primary results, in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Meretz leader Zehava Galon addresses supporters after the announcement of the left-wing party's primary results, in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Meretz party’s new leader Zehava Galon on Saturday slammed the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties for agreeing to run together in the upcoming Knesset elections, in a deal brokered by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The agreement was announced Friday after Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich were hosted at Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea, rekindling an alliance from last year’s elections that recently broke down over disagreements on how to divide a joint electoral slate.

“Yesterday in Caesarea the alliance of thugs was reestablished,” Galon said at a speaking event in Beersheba.

These were “Bibi, Ben Gvir and Smotrich — the Kahanists and Bibi fanatics,” she said, using Netanyahu’s nickname and referring to disciples of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane in far-right Otzma Yehudit.

Netanyahu had been urging the far-right parties to join together again, warning that only by running together were both assured of entering the Knesset and preventing wasted votes. Both factions are expected to back his bid to regain the premiership, with the former prime minister likely needing every possible bit of support to reach a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Netanyahu first brokered an electoral pact between Ben Gvir and other hard-right factions in 2019, in a move that prompted a wave of backlash, with widespread accusations that he was importing right-wing extremists into the Knesset. Ben Gvir has surged in popularity over the past year, with recent polls giving Otzma Yehudit more seats than Religious Zionism if the two parties ran apart.

Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir (left), opposition leader and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich (right). (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In her comments Saturday, Galon — who won the Meretz leadership race this week to retake control of the party she previously led between 2013-2019 — also addressed the prospect of running on a joint left-wing ticket with Labor in the November 1 vote.

“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],” Galon said, referring to the head of the Labor party. “We’re friends. We’re smart women and we have responsibility and judgment.”

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

Polls this week published by Israel’s three major television networks all gave Labor five seats, while Meretz was forecast to pick up four-to-six seats.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli attends a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 27, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Overall, the surveys indicated that no presumptive camp will have enough support in the coming election to break the political deadlock that has sent Israelis to the polls five times in under four years.

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