Meretz minister calls for Labor merger: ‘We need a left not fighting for its life’

Esawi Frej says parties must stop living in past; Zehava Galon, who has Frej’s support in party’s upcoming leadership race, has also called for factions to unite ahead of elections

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej said Saturday that his party should merge with the Labor party to ensure the survival of the political left.

Frej announced earlier this month that he will not run in the upcoming election, bringing an end to a near-decade run with the left-wing Meretz party.

Speaking at a cultural event in the northern town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, Frej said that the two parties needed to merge.

“We need to unite the Labor party with Meretz. We need a left that is not fighting for its life, that stops living in the past,” Frej said.

“There is no holiness in the letters [denoting the names of the separate parties on voting slips]. Those who sanctify those letters will die with them,” he said.

Frej is a supporter of the leadership bid of former Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon, who has announced her return to political life to run in the Meretz primaries ahead of the November 1 elections.

Meretz’s Zehava Galon (R) and Esawi Frej (L) in the Knesset on June 17, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Galon has pointed to recent polls indicating that Meretz might not be able to cross the minimum threshold in the election required in order to enter the Knesset.

A recent Channel 13 poll showed that, headed by Galon, Meretz would receive five seats, compared to four if MK Yair Golan, her sole challenger, were to win the party primaries. Israeli TV polls are notably unreliable, but nevertheless, often steer the decision-making of politicians.

Meretz currently has six seats.

Galon addressed a possible merger with Labor, headed by Merav Michaeli, in an interview on Wednesday.

Galon said she had a lot of respect for Michaeli and would do everything in her power to push for a merger with her party if she is elected Meretz chair.

In a previous interview, Galon said that a merger with Labor would “maximize” the power of the two parties.

Michaeli — who on Monday became the first Labor chair to ever retain her seat in back-to-back contests — has repeatedly rejected the possibility, insisting she has no intention of running on a joint slate with the left-wing party again, as they did two years ago.

Michaeli has said she is trying to reposition Labor as a strong “center-left” party, which she does not see as being compatible with Meretz values.

Then-Meretz leader Zehava Galon, left, speaks to thousands of Israeli Left-wing activists during a rally in Tel-Aviv on May 27, 2017; Labor leader Merav Michaeli attends a conference in Rishon Lezion on July 19, 2022. (Gili Yaari/Flash90; Flash90)

Galon said Wednesday: “I hear what [Michaeli’s] saying and understand where she’s coming from.”

“Under different circumstances, I would have maybe said the same things. But I think that right now we don’t have the privilege of saying we’re separatists,” she said.

“Currently, we’re facing the rise of [a Netanyahu-led bloc]. If that happens, God forbid, that bloc has already indicated its intention to annihilate the rule of law, impose Jewish superiority, compromise Israeli democracy, and hurt Arabs,” Galon said.

“Ben Gvir, Smotrich, Netanyahu — that scares me a lot, and so I think my call to Merav, once I’m elected [party chair], will be to say yes to any opportunity, to anyone who can be a partner in a new and broader social-democratic, Jewish-Arab left that envisions an equal and democratic country,” Galon stated.

Tobias Segal and Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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