Is Meretz Redundant?

With the Labour Party veering left, Meretz fights to prove it’s still relevant and necessary. Eric Greenstein has the story.

The Labour Party AKA “Zionist Camp” has veered left, leading to a drop in the polls for Meretz · Now party chairwoman Galon in engaging in unfriendly fire · On Herzog: “Can the head of the “Zionist Camp” go about his routine, when Lieberman attacks Israeli Arab citizens? Silence of the Lambs” · A large Meretz might help “keep Herzog straight”, but it will also lessen his chances of reaching the Prime Minister’s Residence

הפרחים להרצוג; זהבה גלאון. צילום:  תומר ניוברג, פלאש90
The mandates are fleeing to Herzog; Meretz head Zehava Galon. Photo: Tomoer Neuberg, Flash90

MK Zehava Galon’s lecture this Tuesday at Tel Aviv University symbolizes more than anything the tough times Meretz is undergoing.

Ironically, the meeting was at the Jewish Studies building. You’d expect that in a bastion of the left like TAU, the event would be at a large hall packed with hundreds of participants, so I was pretty surprised to see it take place in a small and rather grey building that doesn’t quite stand out. There, in a small shelter room, your loyal correspondent and some 30-40 students, at least four of whom were Meretz activists, crowded together to listen. Before I went in, I passed a stand of some party activists. One of them wondered aloud: “what are we doing here, anyway?” He might have been talking about the event. Or something else. In light of the Labor Party’s new list, many left-wing voters are likely asking themselves the same question, one which Galon was now trying to answer.

Doomsday Threats

An examination of election polls from mid-December, when Netanyahu announced new elections, until today does not augur well for Meretz. In the beginning, the party had between 6-7 seats, and one poll even envisioned 8. But since January 14, there’s been a downturn, with many polls predicting no more than five seats. The date is no coincidence: on that day, the Labour Party announced its new candidate list. Primary voters for the “Zionist Camp” put forward candidates including neo-communists, those who consider a Nakba memorial to be Zionism, Hatikvah to be a racist anthem, and who support refusal to serve “as long as the occupation continues”. Suddenly, Meretz itself seems a little redundant.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Galon spoke repeatedly about how “amazing” Meretz’s new candidate list is. “We have new people and veterans,” she explained excitedly. But as of now, the voters are less than impressed. To understand why, one need only actually go over the list. Long story short: above the sixth spot, all the realistic places are taken by familiar faces, except for Mossi Raz who’s taking the place of Nitzan Horowitz.

Yes, polls are not everything. Indeed, last elections Meretz itself polled within the three seat range and ended up with six. But Galon’s party line shows that she nevertheless looks at them with a worrying eye. It’s no wonder that she’s gone onto the offensive and start to make doomsday threats. It begins with a frightening scenario: “If Meretz is weak, Herzog will establish a center-right government or a unity government with Netanyahu.” Then she set her sights on Lieberman, the man who is one of a number of important possible components in a future left-wing government. “When I think what might happen in a center-right government, I cringe. And I’m mostly talking about Lieberman…[he is a] racist and a demagogue. He tried at some stage to zigzag, until Mr. Ivette came out in the press conference.”

ללא שינוי; רשימת מרצ החדשה. צילום: תומר ניוברג, פלאש90
Same old faces. Meretz Knesset candidates. Photo: Tomer Neuberg, Flash90

Herzog is not left-wing enough

“But that was not the central point,” Galon clarified. It turns out that Lieberman was just the warmup target: “Where are all the partners for a center-left bloc? All of them are busy with calculations…can the head of the “Zionist Camp” go about his routine, when a Foreign Minister in the Israeli government attacks Israeli Arab citizens?”. In light of the above, it’s no surprise that the party that should be Galon’s biggest partner has in effect become her greatest electoral enemy. “[Lieberman] proposes expelling them! As if citizenship is a tradable commodity! Can the head of the Labour Party…go about his routine when [Liberman attacks] the Attorney General…and the rule of law? Silence of the Lambs.”

So how does Galon intend on preserving Meretz’s unique brand? What is her strategy?

The argument that Galon repeated again and again in her lecture is that Meretz will “set Bujie straight”, ensuring that he will not sit in a unity government with Likud or with Lieberman and the center. In passing, Galon mentioned potential partners for such a coalition: Yesh Atid, Shas and UTJ. But the numbers speak for themselves, and as of right now, it doesn’t seem like those three have any real chance of forming a coalition with Labour and Meretz. Just as you and I know this, so did the crowd.

One of the students raised the issue of Lieberman and Knesset seats. Galon responded by trying to radiate optimism: “If Meretz has ten seats, then Lieberman won’t be an issue.” She explained that it’s not necessary for the “Zionist Camp” to be the largest party, so long as it’s the party with the greatest chance of forming a coalition. A large Meretz, Galon argued, would force Labour to poach votes from the center and right rather than the left.

Another student would not back down and addressed what Galon tried to ignore: Meretz’s ten mandates would ultimately come at Labour’s expense. If Bibi is subsequently stronger, there’s a good chance the other parties will recommend he form a coalition. “I’ll explain to you why it’s not all mathematics,” Galon replied. “If you want to replace the government, you need votes from the center-right. There’s no logic in taking votes from the left.”

It’s a numbers game

True, that is the great mission of Herzog and Livni. But there isn’t an unlimited amount of votes to be had on the center-right for Labour and Meretz, and Yair “Mr. Center” Lapid is maintaining his strength fairly well. Labour certainly won’t be able to attract enough votes to keep it strong and also boost Meretz to 10 seats. After all, Meretz also takes away from Labour, which leaves both parties with about the same number of seats and an assured future in the opposition. Even Galon admitted as much: “What matters is not the size of the party but the size of the bloc. We want to have ten seats, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the bloc. That’s the math.” And the math, Mrs. Galon, says that you still end up with the same number of seats. So what will you do?

Her answer: Don’t make life hard for yourself. Rather than think of the best way to defeat Netanyahu, Galon called on her audience to vote according to values. “It’s much more important that when people go to vote, they won’t make the strategic and bloc-related calculations,” Galon summed up. “If you’re left, just vote Meretz.” Confused? So are we. What is certain is that – with all due respect to values – the Prime Minister’s house can only be reached through the math.

English translation by Avi Woolf.

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