In their first press conference, the leaders of the newly formed left-wing alliance dubbed the Democratic Camp vowed on Thursday to work to deny Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another reelection on September 17.
“We are embarking on a path that in a month and a half will lead to replacing the current leadership and bringing about social change,” said Nitzan Horowitz, chair of the Meretz party, who will lead the new joint slate on election day. The new party, Horowitz said, will defend Israel from the “racism, corruption, occupation and religious coercion” spearheaded by the Netanyahu government.
The new slate unites Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party, and Labor Party lawmaker MK Stav Shaffir, who took second place in Labor’s primary three weeks ago and left the party in favor of the new union.
“We all made difficult choices to stand here,” Shaffir said at the press conference, standing alongside Horowitz and Barak. “The Labor party is my home, but the home is on fire, the neighborhood is on fire, the country is on fire. When your home is on fire, you step outside. Then you start to rebuild it.”
She called on Arab Israelis, who have been voting in growing numbers for Meretz in recent years, to back the new alliance.
Shaffir is No.2 on the new slate.
Barak, who asked to be placed in the 10th slot on the slate, and thus is unlikely to win a seat in the 22nd Knesset, said Thursday’s union “is the first step, I hope, toward new alliances.”
If there are additional unions, Barak may be pushed further down the list — though he assured his audience on Thursday that he was in a “realistic” slot.
“This is the first step toward getting Israel back on track, replacing the government and safeguarding Israel as Zionist, Jewish and democratic,” he said.
Horowitz laid out what he said was the agenda of the Democratic Camp.
“The Israeli left is becoming a strong and significant force again,” he said. “The era of kowtowing to the right is over, because being a leftist is a compliment.”
He vowed to lower social gaps, work toward peace with the Palestinians and defend Israeli democracy through the Supreme Court and the media.
“We will strive to be in the government, but not the Netanyahu government,” he concluded. Addressing Netanyahu, he vowed: “Your time is up, enough! On September 17 you’ll go home.”
As news of the merger leaked earlier Thursday, many on the left welcomed the move in the hopes it will ensure left-wing votes aren’t lost to small parties that fail to clear the 3.25 percent vote threshold for entering the Knesset.
It also drew grumbles of dissatisfaction from some who thought the union could dilute Meretz’s left-wing brand.
Backing the merger, Labor No. 2 Itzik Shmuli urged party head Amir Peretz to reconsider his opposition to uniting with the parties that now make up the Democratic Camp.
“I very much hope that in the time that is left we will manage to bring the Labor party into such a merger,” Shmuli told Army Radio.
Hinting he could follow Shaffir out the door, Shmuli said he would “decide my future in politics in the coming week.”
Shmuli first broke ranks with Peretz on Wednesday amid stewing anger over Peretz’s decision to merge Labor with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, which is further to the right on the political spectrum. Peretz later said he would not bring his party into a union with Barak’s Israel Democratic Party or Meretz.
“A camp that is shattered into splintered parties is taking a dangerous, unnecessary gamble with its chances to grow and win, and also with the future of the [Labor] party,” Shmuli said Wednesday, calling the Gesher union “irresponsible.”
The Labor Party itself welcomed the Democratic Camp alliance, which it said “will prevent votes from being lost on a slate that won’t pass the electoral threshold.”
Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party that is expected to dominate the center-left bloc in the September elections, welcomed the move as “important” to prevent lost votes, but said his party would continue to be the main alternative to a government led by Netanyahu.
Analysts had predicted that a left bloc split into three parties — Meretz, Labor-Gesher, and IDP — would only draw enough votes for two of them to cross the threshold, thus making it harder for the center-left to form a ruling coalition.
MK Tamar Zandberg, a former Meretz leader who is fourth on the Democratic Camp slate, said during an interview with Army Radio that the party is still hoping to woo former justice minister Tzipi Livni to join them, and that she could possibly be made party leader.
Livni, a former Likud cabinet minister who founded the dovish Hatnua party in 2012, retired from politics ahead of this year’s April elections.
Party slates must be finalized by the end of next week to run on September 17.