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Labor Resurrects; Will Meretz Die?

By Ralph Seliger

On March 23rd, Israel will hold its fourth national election in two years.  The multi-party contending field is even more chaotic than usual, but one dramatic change has occurred almost instantaneously with the Jan. 24th primary election of MK Merav Michaeli (pictured) to lead the Labor Party (Avodah).  Of the merely three Laborites elected to the Knesset in the most recent electoral round, March 2, 2020, she was the only one not to join the Netanyahu-Gantz led coalition government.  Now she’s reversed the party’s sorry fortunes, with polls indicating the election of six to eight mandates, safely above the minimum threshold of four seats.  Labor’s current resurgence seems to correlate with a decline in support for Meretz, the other left-of-center Zionist party (polling at that precarious four-seat level).   

But Labor is not expected to be among the two or three parties contending for power against Netanyahu’s Likud: Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, Gideon Saar’s anti-Netanyahu but right-wing defection from Likud (the New Hope party), and Naftali Bennett’s rightist Yamina party.  The last time Labor was a major contender was in 2015 under the leadership of Isaac Herzog and in alliance with Tzipi Livni as the “Zionist Union.”  

Ameinu sponsored a webinar with Chairperson Michaeli on Feb. 28th; there’s a recording in this link.  (Due to her busy campaign schedule, she joined at minute 19.)

Over 150 people were on this Ameinu webinar, introduced by its president, Ken Bob, and featuring Nancy Kaufman (the former head of the National Council of Jewish Women) in conversation with the new party leader.  Michaeli is justifiably upbeat for having revived Avodah; she blames its recent failures on it having shied away from emphasizing its progressive principles, because Netanyahu has successfully demonized “the left” as a brand.  As a result, the center-left was running scared to relabel itself as “centrist.” 

I was honored to have my question answered first: why Labor and Meretz cannot sustain an alliance in either a single list or a merger — noting the possibility that Labor’s sudden rise in the polls to six seats or more could result in Meretz failing to pass the 3.25% vote threshold to get into the Knesset.  She sighed deeply, saying that she’s often asked this question, but again suggested that center-left voters unreasonably lack confidence, and this is why there’s such doubt that Labor and Meretz can successfully run separately.  She says that Labor is a “big tent” and “diverse” party with Meretz always having been more narrowly left.  She’d like to work toward eventually returning to the success of Rabin’s election in 1992 when Labor won 44 seats and Meretz 12.   

There were numerous interesting comments in the chat section, with some chats favoring a close alliance or merger of Labor and Meretz. But another commented that in Israeli politics, 2+ 2 often equals 3; sadly, the right flank of Labor’s “big tent” could easily be alienated by an alliance with Meretz, while the most left of Meretz supporters might be driven off by a closer link with Labor.  In response to chats suggesting a Jewish-Arab party, Michaeli noted that both Labor and Meretz have Arabs running on their lists.

On the peace issue, Michaeli would like to build upon the new regional peace agreements toward a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.

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