Last week, I was invited to a bloggers meeting with the heads of Meretz. The invitation stated that all three Meretz’s MK will be there, but only Haim “Jumas” Oron, the current head of the party, showed up, accompanied by former MK Moshe (Mossi) Raz (former chairman of Peace Now) and Yifat Solel of Meretz leadership.
The event itself turned out to be a sort of a roundtable. Haim Oron opened and said that Meretz is looking for ways to be more effective after the blow it suffered in the last elections. Meretz got an all-times low of three seats out of the Knesset’s 120. Now the party is looking for new members, and hopes to form new alliances with other political movements. More then getting their message through, said Oron, they wanted to listen.
I have been to several such leftist events in the past year, with political leaders and activists asking themselves what can be done now. The Meretz meeting was one of the more frustrating events I attended.
One blogger started by asking Meretz’s leaders whether the anti-left trends in Israel have to do with the economical and ideological trends in Europe. Then came the tired debate on the left and the poor, also know as “we work for them in the Knesset, and they vote for Bibi.” Some people complained that Meretz doesn’t have a woman in the Knesset, nor a Sephardic Jew or a religious one.
It’s almost twenty years that the Israeli Left is having this sort of discussions.
When my turn to talk came, I said that I feel that all these issues don’t matter now. Something has changed in Israel in the last year. An organized attack on civil liberties is taking place. It is aimed against the radical left and the Arabs, but this is only the beginning, and racism is on the rise. This is an explosive combination. It seems to me that Israel is on a very dangerous crossroad, perhaps even past it. And Meretz is acting as if it’s business as usual.
A few of the political bloggers present at the meeting joined me. Itamar Shaltiel and Yossi Gurvitz said that Meretz cannot limit its work to the Knesset. The real game today is in the public arena, and Meretz is not taking part in it. We argued that Meretz should lead the protests in Jerusalem Jaffa and other places. I said that it’s not enough to vote against the Nakba law, and that they should publicly challenge such bills. Extreme right activists march in Arab towns and neighborhoods. Meretz Knesset Members can use their immunity and lead the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah into the disputed part of the neighborhood, to which the police only allows the settlers.
Former Haaretz Editor David Landau recently wrote that if the “boycott law” is passed, we should boycott the Knesset. He invited the state to prosecute him for these words. This sort of tactic, of challenging anti-democratic legislation, is very common in civil rights campaigns. But for some reason, this thinking is alien to the Zionist Left in Israel. Meretz officials do come to the demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, but they never lead it. They vote against the Nakba law or the boycott low, but they would not defy them.
The problem is that voting is not that important right now. There is an overwhelming majority for these kinds of bills in the current Knesset. If an anti-democratic bill is not passed, it’s only because the government doesn’t want it to pass, usually out of concern for its image. Even if Meretz had six or seven seats instead of just three, it would not have change much. Not with eighty members of Knesset on the other side.
Haim Oron was very honest with us in his reply. “You are asking me to be a radical, and I’m not one,” he said. “I haven’t given up hope on the Knesset and on the Jewish public. My goal is to reach the twenty-something seats that used to vote for center-left parties. I haven’t given up on them.”
The debate went on, but both sides just repeated what was said. I did feel that Mossi Raz and Yifat Solel were closer to my way of thinking, but Meretz MKs are simply unreachable – two didn’t show up to the meeting and the third, which happens to head the party, simply views things differently. More then anything, it seems that Meretz is like a relic from a different age, holding on to ideas and tactics of the mid 90’s, drawing lines between them and the non-Zionist left and looking for support in the Israeli center, which has long gone to the right (at least Meretz is not moving with it, like Labor and Kadima do).
I don’t know if a different approach would get Meretz more votes. They might do nothing and still win some leftwing voters back from Kadima, or they might be wiped out completely if Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid decides to run to the Knesset and takes Meretz’s strongholds at Tel Aviv’s northern suburbs (the latter seems more likely). But this is not that important. What really matters is that right now, Meretz has no affect on the political reality in Israel.
Official blog of the Meretz campaign, with other accounts on last week’s bloggers meeting (Hebrew).