Meretz old guard bows out of party leadership race
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Meretz old guard bows out of party leadership race

Leader Zehava Galon drops candidacy to make way for new blood; Ilan Gilon says health preventing him from pursuing campaign

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Meretz head Zahava Galon and Meretz MK Ilan Gilon during a party meeting at the Knesset on November 25, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz head Zahava Galon and Meretz MK Ilan Gilon during a party meeting at the Knesset on November 25, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meretz chair Zehava Galon on Wednesday announced she would abandon her bid for reelection for the leadership of the left-wing party in its March 22 primaries. Shortly afterward, her Meretz colleague MK Ilan Gilon dropped out of the race due to health issues.

“From conversations with activists around the country in recent weeks, I understood that they want new leadership,” said Galon in a statement.

Galon, 62, resigned from the Knesset in October to focus on reforming the party’s internal election process. She has served as Meretz leader since 2012, and as a Knesset lawmaker since 1999.

Moments after her announcement, Gilon released a statement saying he was also abandoning his campaign.

Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“With a heavy heart, I am dropping my candidacy as Meretz leader,” said Gilon on Facebook. “I experienced a medical issue that limits my ability to continue the campaign as I would have liked. I will continue to serve the public as the Meretz faction leader in the Knesset — and advance the values for which you sent me to the Knesset.”

In their absence, the front-runners in the race for the party leadership were seen to be Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, former Peace Now director Avi Buskila, and social activist Avi Dabush, in a still-crowded field of seven candidates.

“Zehava Galon is a brave and groundbreaking leader, on par with Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid,” said Zandberg in a statement, referring to previous Meretz leaders.

“This is the end of one chapter in Galon’s glorious career, and I am convinced she will continue to be part of the Meretz leadership in her new chapter,” she added.

Buskila, meanwhile, said Meretz voters must now decide between “same old or a revolution.”

“Everyone understands that if Meretz continues to choose the same old faces, it will once again be grasping [to clear] the electoral threshold, as it has in recent elections,” he said.

Director general of Peace Now Avi Buskila speaks during a rally in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In January, Galon and party officials agreed to do away with the delegate system and reached a compromise that would allow any Israeli to sign up as a member of Meretz up to a month before the primaries and vote for the party’s list. The agreement to hold open primaries ended a months-long internal spat within the left-wing party.

The first round of voting will be held on March 22. Should none of the candidates receive 40 percent of the vote, a second round will be held on March 28 between the two candidates who received the most support.

Meretz currently has five seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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