Will press for merger with Labor

Meretz’s Galon says she’s returning to politics to foil a Netanyahu return to power

‘This is no longer about the fate of Meretz alone,’ veteran left-wing politician says; if there’s another Netanyahu premiership, ‘I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror’

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

Then-Meretz party leader Zehava Galon speaks at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2018. (Flash90)
Then-Meretz party leader Zehava Galon speaks at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2018. (Flash90)

Former Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said on Wednesday that her decision to return to political life and run in the Meretz primaries ahead of the November 1 elections was motivated by a fear that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu could return to power, saying that if that happened she “won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror.”

In an interview with 103 Radio, the veteran politician said, “Over the past two weeks, my life has turned around. ” She had recently declared she had no intention of running again for leadership of the left-wing party.

“First of all, the political circumstances have changed,” she said, citing Nitzan Horowitz’s stepping down as party leader and the recently announced plans by Meretz ministers Esawi Frej and Tamar Zandberg not to compete for a seat on the next Meretz slate.

Frej has repeatedly called for Galon’s return, and faction chair MK Michal Rozin is also reportedly part of a team that encouraged her comeback.

Galon also pointed to recent polls indicating that Meretz might not be able to cross the minimum threshold 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.

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

Galon led the Meretz party between 2012 and 2018 and resigned just before the 2019 elections, which were the start of Israel’s ongoing period of political instability and repeated elections.

“My life was great after formally quitting politics,” she said. But, she said, she felt it was her responsibility to try and prevent a right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu from returning to power.

“This is no longer about the fate of Meretz alone,” she said. “If Meretz doesn’t cross the threshold and the far-right, theocratic, messianic, Kahanist bloc wins, people will ask me, ‘How can you leave your house?'”

She continued, “I realized that if I don’t do this and [Netanyahu] returns to power, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror.”

Galon suggested that her return to political life is a reason for concern for the Israeli right. “I have the ability to bring back Meretz’s political base from both the Labor and Yesh Atid parties.”

Addressing a possible merger with Labor, headed by Merav Michaeli, 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 chairwoman.

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

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)

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

“I hear what she’s saying and understand where she’s coming from,” Galon said Wednesday. “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.

“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.”

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu during an inauguration ceremony of a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the West Bank, July 12, 2022. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

“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.

She stressed her commitment to establishing a large bloc to oppose a Netanyahu-led bloc ahead of the November 1 elections.

“I won’t do anything to compromise the bloc. I’m committed to this process. I wouldn’t have joined otherwise,” she said.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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