Meretz leader Zehava Galon said set to resign over catastrophic loss

Party rival Yair Golan praises reported move, which comes after left-wing faction failed to make it into the Knesset

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Meretz party head Zehava Galon speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, September 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Meretz party head Zehava Galon speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, September 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The left-wing Meretz party announced Thursday that its leader, Zehava Galon, would meet with the party’s management next week and announce her next step, amid reports she is set to resign.

With blame flying in the aftermath of the party’s failure to enter the Knesset for the first time since its founding 30 years ago, Yair Golan, who lost to Galon in a leadership contest this summer, urged her to step down.

“I think it’s clear that the responsibility for this failure falls on the party leader and the secretary general, and that the two of them need to take responsibility and can’t continue in their roles,” Golan said.

“In any case, Galon will remain in her position at least until the end of the year and will continue to assist and act in Meretz matters,” the party said in a statement, in response to reports that Galon was stepping down after Meretz won only 3.14 percent of the November 1 vote — below the 3.25% necessary to enter Knesset.

“It’s a report that was expected after the failure that ended Meretz’s presence in politics. I think it’s a necessary step,” Golan added.

Golan, a former IDF general considered a party outsider, lost a party leadership primary this summer against Galon, who had been coaxed out of retirement to take on the job.

Meretz leadership contenders Zehava Galon (left) and Yair Golan (composite image: Flash90)

Although it maintained a Knesset presence from 1992 until this November, Meretz has often struggled to rally support at the polls, in line with a general rightward shift in the electorate. In the latest campaign, the party said it was felled by a combination of failing to unite slates with center-left Labor, votes cannibalized by bloc leader Yesh Atid, and what Golan called a “horrible campaign.”

Galon ran a campaign whose slogan was “I’m back, Meretz is back.” Golan said that the slogan “doesn’t say anything… it’s an empty statement.”

He expanded his criticism of Galon and the campaign, saying it had been an attack campaign against the right-religious bloc now poised to take power but did not explain to voters why Meretz should be their choice.

“Our campaign dealt with delegitimatizing the opponent, but not legitimizing us. Why vote for us at all?” he asked.

Recruited into Meretz by its former head Nitzan Horowitz — who brought the party into the short-lived Bennett-Lapid government — Golan wanted to shift Meretz’s narrative and appeal, a move that Galon opposed.

Specifically, Golan wanted to redefine Meretz as Israel’s “Zionist left,” while Galon insisted the party was more broadly “Israeli,” though she and other members defined themselves as Zionists.

Meretz party supporters react as the results of the Israeli elections are announced, in Jerusalem November 1, 2022 (Flash90)

Golan also wanted to “change the spirit” of Meretz and draw new audiences.

“I am not an arrogant person. I won’t say that if I had led Meretz it would have all been different. But I would say that if I led Meretz, we would have had a chance,” Golan said. “Once Zehava was chosen, I knew it was possible” that the party would fail to make it into Knesset, he added.

Shortly after the results became clear, Galon said it was “a very difficult moment.”

“The election results are a disaster for us, a disaster for the country, and yes, also a personal disaster for me,” she said.

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