Former MK Nitzan Horowitz won the leadership of the left-wing Meretz party Thursday following a vote by around 1,000 party committee delegates.
Horowitz, who previously who served as a Knesset member from 2009 to 2015, received 459 votes compared to 383 votes for defeated leader MK Tamar Zandberg.
In winning the leadership battle, the former TV journalist became the first openly gay leader of a Knesset party in Israeli history.
“Meretz has a clear, straight path, of love for humans, and belief in equality and freedom,” Horowitz said in a victory speech at the Expo Tel Aviv convention center where the vote was held. “This is the path I have walked my whole life and continue to walk. This way of life is under attack and Meretz will fight for freedom for all, from darkness, racism and coercion.”
The left-wing party won four seats in April’s election, but is looking to boost its numbers in a repeat poll slated for September by uniting with other center-left parties, such as Labor.
“Meretz is prepared for talks and cooperation based on our values,” he said. “We are proud leftists. We need to form alliances with new groups and the heads of Arab and Druze society. Our way and values are the reason for our existence as a party. We have a historic responsibility to create a strong left. If we need be, we will be a combative opposition that they [a right-wing government] will not forget.”
Horowitz opened fire on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he accused of “making deals of political bribery” to avoid prison in three corruption cases in which he is facing indictments pending a hearing. Horowitz also aimed fire at the Blue and White party which he dismissed as a “soap bubble.”
Nonetheless, he was congratulated by Likud Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, who acknowledged their “extreme differences of opinion,” and others, including Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid.
Zandberg, who had won the party leadership in March 2018, congratulated Horowitz and made it clear she intends to continue in politics.
“It isn’t pleasant to lose, but anyone who doesn’t lose sometimes never wins,” Zandberg said in a statement. “Wishing Nitzan success. For us, Meretz is bigger than the individual, it is the Israeli left. I am here for the future of my country and am not going anywhere.”
On July 11 the delegates will vote on the rest of the party slate for the elections.
On Wednesday, Channel 13 news broadcast a poll that found if elections were held immediately rather than in September, Meretz would jump from four seats to six.
Zandberg and Horowitz were the only two candidates for the party leadership after MK Issawi Frej and former lawmaker Mossi Raz dropped their joint bid to head the party and threw their support behind Zandberg.
During Meretz’s open primary before the April elections, held in February, a resounding 86 percent of the left-wing party’s members, some 21,000 people, voted at 131 polling stations across the country.
But ahead of the September elections, Meretz made the decision to close off its primary to only members of the party’s central committee.
Meretz narrowly crossed the electoral threshold in the last election, receiving 3.7% of the national vote and winning four Knesset seats.