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Meretz member backs unity with Labor, as left-wing party faces possible oblivion

Yair Golan accuses Labor of refusing to merge; party leader Horowitz assails rebel MK Rinawie Zoabi, says Meretz ‘has no connection to that woman anymore’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

MK Yair Golan speaks during a conference of Democrat TV in Jaffa, June 7, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
MK Yair Golan speaks during a conference of Democrat TV in Jaffa, June 7, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Meretz MK Yair Golan said Thursday that he would support his party uniting with the fellow left-wing Labor party in order to secure a “strong Zionist left” in Israel, as the government begins the process of dissolving the Knesset and sending the country to new elections.

In an interview with 103FM Radio, Golan addressed the possibility of merging with the more moderate Labor, headed by Merav Michaeli, ahead of Israel’s fifth election since 2019. Opinion polls have largely seen Meretz hovering around — and sometimes under — the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of votes, meaning its parliamentary future is in doubt.

“My position has always been that Israel needs to have a strong Zionist left that works together,” he said, blaming Labor for refusing such initiatives in the past.

“I look forward to the day that we are able to unite. I think that as long as our hand is reached out in an attempt to work together and is left hanging in the air, we will continue to do our best to grow and remain a significant element in Israeli politics,” he said.

Golan noted the importance of “creating a real alternative to the right, which in my view has failed utterly in leading the State of Israel in the past two decades.”

Asked about his position toward renegade party member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, who voted against several recent coalition bills in moves seen as one of the catalysts of the government’s collapse, Golan said that “there was a problem with Zoabi’s appointment,” but said he was faithful that the party would “recover” and “increase its strength.”

However, party leader Nitzan Horowitz took a much more aggressive stance toward Rinawie Zoabi on Thursday, telling Army Radio that Meretz “has no connection to that woman anymore.”

“Her behavior was despicable and unfair. She crossed all red lines and did something that hurt me, Meretz, the Israeli society and the Arab sector,” he charged.

Rinawie Zoabi, in turn, struck back at Meretz and its leader.

“Horowitz uses the expression ‘that woman.’ I have a name, he doesn’t respect his own position,” she said in an interview with Army Radio. “It seems like Meretz has forgotten its ideology.”

Zoabi said on Tuesday that she would part ways with Meretz ahead of the upcoming elections.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meretz and Labor have run together before, and the possibility of joining forces again in future elections has been raised by both party leaders.

Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv last month, Horowitz said he believes in the idea of forming “a united social-democratic party” and that “Meretz and the Labor party should run together” in the future.

Reiterating Horowitz, Michaeli said that in the next elections, “we as a camp must do everything in order to rebuild the democratic parties that are the Labor party and our sister party Meretz.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli speaks during a press conference in Ashdod port, southern Israel, on April 6, 2022. (Flash90)

But Michaeli’s comments were criticized by other members of her party, who opposed the idea of uniting with Meretz, which they said would strategically harm the party.

“The Labor party is not a branch of Meretz. It should return to a leading position in the country’s center-left and not be drawn to a narrow and marginal niche. That requires us to initiate partnerships with the center and establish a large bloc,” said Labor party secretary-general Eran Hermoni at the time.

Labor MK Ram Shefa also opposed the notion of running with Meretz.

“I respect [Meretz leader] Nitzan [Horowitz] very much, but the Labor party is returning as a central party. It has a strong footing on the left and a strong footing on the center, and it’s not going to enter the Meretz niche,” he said.

If the parties do eventually decide to run together, it would not be the first time. Ahead of the 2020 elections for the previous, 23rd Knesset, Meretz, the Labor party headed by Amir Peretz and the Gesher party headed by Orly Levy-Abekasis formed a center-left electoral list, receiving seven seats. The partnership was short-lived, however, after Levy-Abekasis requested to separate, followed by Peretz.

The heads of the Gesher, Labor and Meretz parties, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on election night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to reports in Hebrew media Thursday, November 1 is emerging as the most likely date for the next general election.

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