Meanwhile, Netanyahu urges right-wing unity

MK Shaffir offers to give up second spot on left-wing slate to save alliance

Democratic Camp lawmaker says she’ll agree to drop from second to third place if it means three-party merger is maintained for coming elections

Democratic Camp party leaders MK Nitzan Horowitz, left, and Stav Shaffir at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Democratic Camp party leaders MK Nitzan Horowitz, left, and Stav Shaffir at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

MK Stav Shaffir, who recently threatened to run independently in the coming elections due to a spat with the Meretz party, one of her partners in the three-party left-wing Democratic Camp, has now offered to drop one place on the combined slate in a bid to preserve the alliance.

A rift has developed between Shaffir and Nitzan Horovitz, head of Meretz, the leading faction in the Democratic Camp, which also includes Shaffir’s Green party and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.

The three parties ran together in the September elections, winning five seats. However, since then Shaffir has said that Meretz violated its agreement with other party members and that she would run independently with her Green Party in the March 2 vote.

On Saturday, in a letter to Horovitz, Shaffir offered to give up her No. 2 spot on the Democratic Camp slate, suggesting it should instead be given to an Arab Israeli to ensure that community is well-represented. All the other names on the slate, including her own, would then be moved down one slot, putting Shaffir third. She also demanded that of every ten slots on the slate, five be filled by women.

“It is still not too late to maintain the partnership and lead a great union that will breathe hope into our camp,” Shaffir wrote to Horovitz.

“In the coming days I intend to make every effort to preserve our partnership, for the sake of the country and to prevent a scenario in which the breaking apart of the Democratic Camp” leads to one or more of the left-wing parties not passing the Knesset electoral threshold, she wrote.

MK Stav Shaffir of the Democratic Camp party holds a press conference, September 15, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Meretz sources responded that Shaffir had been offered the sixth place on the Democratic Camp slate, which polls have shown would see her lose her Knesset seat.

However, sources close to Shaffir said that so far she had not received any proposal from Meretz, Ynet reported. The sources said that a refusal of Shaffir’s “generous offer” would send a clear message that Meretz “is looking to break apart the Democratic Camp.”

Shaffir, who first won public recognition as a leader of the 2011 social justice protests in Israel, left the Labor party to join the Democratic Camp after veteran Labor leader Amir Peretz ruled out merging with other left-wing parties following his alliance with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s center-right Gesher party ahead of the previous elections.

Polls so far have suggested that as an alliance the Democratic Camp would win up to five seats in the coming elections. Running independently, some or all of the three parties could fail to beat the 3.25% threshold, worth four Knesset seats.

Merging on the right

Right-wing figures have also been discussing merger options, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Saturday on all three parties to the right of his Likud to unite.

“The right will not forgive [Naftali] Bennett, [Bezalel] Smotrich, and [Rafi] Peretz if they don’t combine into one slate,” Netanyahu tweeted, referring to the leaders of New Right, National Union, and Jewish Home, respectively.

“Both slates are likely to fall under the threshold and precipitate the rise of a left-wing government,” he wrote, apparently referring to to the National Union and the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

Jewish Home, which has already said it intends to merge with the right-wing extremist party Otzma Yehudit, echoed Netanyahu, tweeting a call for Bennett and Smotrich to join their parties and form “one big Jewish Home party.”

“Past experience teaches that our public doesn’t like splits and it punishes us for them,” Jewish Home tweeted. “The coming elections are critical for the entire right-wing camp and we must not make light of it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd) visit an army base in the Golan Heights overlooking Syrian territory, on November 24, 2019. (Atef Safadi/Pool/AFP)

Otzma Yehduit said in a statement that Netanyahu’s concerns were justified in light of “ego games and insults by some of the right-wing parties.”

New Right tweeted in response that it “appreciate[s] Netanyahu’s concerns” but said it was focusing on drawing voters away from center-left Blue and White as well as the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party.

Polls published Thursday by the two leading television news channels gave the Democratic Camp four seats and New Right six to eight seats. Both the National Union and the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit alliance would fail to enter the Knesset if they go it alone, according to Channel 12, but would get four seats if they ran together.

Israel is heading to its third election in less than a year on March 2 after two previous rounds of voting produced only political deadlock. Polls have predicted that the coming vote will still not break the impasse.

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