The newly elected leader of Meretz said Saturday that her party was better suited than Labor to lead Israel’s left.
Tamar Zandberg, speaking at a cultural event in Hadera, said she was disappointed by the conduct of the Labor party under the leadership of Avi Gabbay, “zigzagging and apologizing for its positions and as a result collapsing politically.”
She said Meretz “is certainly a better candidate to lead the left-wing bloc due to its ideological clarity and its loyalty to its values.”
Zandberg became the new head of Meretz Thursday night after winning a vast majority in its first-ever leadership primary, delivering a resounding victory over rival Avi Buskila, a former head of the Peace Now anti-settlement group. Zandberg won 71 percent of the votes cast compared to 28% for Buskila.
Accepting victory in front of a crowd of party loyalists at its headquarters in Tel Aviv, the 41-year-old Zandberg, who has been an MK for Meretz since 2013 and a party activist for many years, said she planned to lead the Israeli left to better days.
“We will be here for the huge public that has not given up on Israeli democracy, on justice and equality,” she said. “Everyone who understands that the occupation is an existential threat to the state of Israel, to all those Israelis I say: Don’t believe that you are the minority. You are not. We are the majority in Israeli society.”
Both Zandberg and Buskila had run on platforms promising to lead the left-wing party out of its marginal opposition role. Zandberg repeated her stated goal throughout the campaign for Meretz to win 10 seats in the Knesset in the next national elections, scheduled for November 2019, a feat the party hasn’t managed in 15 years. She has vowed to change the perception of Meretz as a perpetual opposition party — the last time it sat in the government was 17 years ago under Labor prime minister Ehud Barak — even suggesting a willingness to join a coalition with arch-nemesis Avigdor Liberman, who leads the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu.
“Meretz is ready to push forward to the center of the political stage. We will lead a strong left-wing force on every stage, in the Knesset, at rallies, on the street, on social media,” she said to the cheers of activists. “Everywhere, we will be part of the revolution that Israel so desperately needs. We will break the mold of Israeli politics that pushed us to a corner and told us that the public wasn’t with us.”
Since his election as Labor leader last July, Gabbay has sought to move the party rightward in an apparent bid to bolster its standing, and has made a number of comments at odds with Labor’s historical stances.
In December he said preserving a “united” Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty was more important than clinching a peace deal with the Palestinians, after insinuating that the left “forgot what it means to be a Jew,” though he later walked back those comments. And in October, he said he would not evacuate West Bank settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, and days later called the settlement enterprise “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”
The most recent polls show the Zionist Union — a coalition of Labor and Hatnuah parties — sinking from its current 24 seats to just 12, with Meretz going from its current five to seven, a trend the party hopes will continue with its new leader.