H. Schenker: Elections report from Tel Aviv

H. Schenker: Elections report from Tel Aviv

The following report on elections in Meretz and Democrats Abroad-Israel is by Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal and a contributing editor of Israel Horizons:

It’s been a busy political week for me, and rather bi-cultural, since it was both American and Israeli politics.

1 ) The Democrats Abroad-Israel elections were held on Tuesday, and Joanne Yaron was re-elected Chair, and I was re-elected Vice Chair. There is now an 8 member executive, including a young 23 year old international relations student of Galia Golan’s at the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, who is the new treasurer/fundraiser.

All positions on the executive are for a two year term, and you can only hold a specific position for two terms. There’s also a Democrats Abroad gender balance rule, which states that the chair and the vice chair have to be of different genders. Due to excitement generated by the primary and election campaigns, membership in DA – Israel more than tripled, and we hope to build on that success.

For those who don’t know her, Joanne is a very energetic grandmother of two little girls, with an MA in Middle East studies from Columbia, who has been in Israel since 1962, one of the founders of the Israeli feminist movement and the driving force behind the Rape Crisis Center in Tel Aviv, who was also a member of the Ramat Gan City Council (Meretz). She deserves a lot of credit for reviving the dormant DA Abroad organization in Israel.

2) As one of the thousand elected members of Viedat Meretz (the Meretz Convention) which elects the party chair, Knesset candidates and votes for policy, I participated in last week’s election for the party list. I’ve known Ilan Gilon, who came in first after party chairperson MK Chaim Oron (known as Jumas by all), for many years. A former head of the younger generation of Mapam (and a member of Hashomer Hatzair from the age of l0), he was a very good parliamentarian last time around (he was in the Knesset from 1999-2003), and one of his plusses is that his primary agenda is socio-economic. He’s quite a character, and really speaks for the people, the down and out, etc. He walks with a cane due to a childhood case of polio, and is renowned for helping everyone with special needs.

I also have great respect for Zehava Galon as an excellent parliamentarian, advocate for peace, women’s rights, human rights, the struggle against corruption, etc. I voted for her for first place and Gilon for second. (She won the #3 spot, with Gilon as #2 and Jumes heading the list as Meretz party chair.)

Incidentally, Jumas has challenged Netanyahu to a debate on economic policy, so far without a response.

Yesterday (Monday, December 22nd) the Meretz Convention convened again (by the way, Joanne Yaron is also a voting member) to vote on the merger between the Meretz list and the New Movement left party candidates, Channel 10 commentator Nitzan Horowitz for the #3 slot (he’s an environmentalist, human rights and peace activist and gay rights advocate), lawyer Talia Sasson for the #7 slot (as a former government prosecutor she’s the renowned author of the Sasson Report on the illegal outposts), Tzali Reshef (Peace Now leader, chair of Keter publishing and former Labor MK) at #9, and Avtisam Marana (a female Arab director) at # 1 2. I regret that the new grouping didn’t choose Prof. Avner Ben-Zakan, a Mizrachi from the Be’ersheva slums, as one of their candidates, though I’ve been told that he has a “problematic personality.”

After Reform Rabbi Meir Azari lit the candles for the second night of Chanukah and gave a progressive bracha, Jumas gave a detailed description of how the proposed merger evolved, saying that there is a major opportunity in the coming elections for Meretz to grow significantly. Veteran Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni was received with thunderous applause. Expressing her strong support for the proposal, she emphasized that the future of the state most be based upon the principles carved out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Writer Amos Oz strongly supported the initiative, and bitterly criticized Ehud Barak for not removing the illegal outposts, stopping the settlements, and expressing his readiness to be a junior coalition partner with the Likud. Outgoing party chairperson Dr. Yossi Beilin also supported the initiative, saying that Meretz is unique on the Israeli political scene because it is the only party which consistently supports “peace, civil rights and social democracy.”

Nitzan Horowitz spoke on behalf of the New Movement candidates, and made a strong impression on the delegates. He said that he had met many of the delegates on the front lines of the struggle for peace, human rights, and a livable, pollution-less urban environment, and was proud to join the struggle at the parliamentary level. He believes that he and his colleagues can appeal to the younger generation and the disaffected voters who have given up on politics. Nitzan said that he was proud to joint forces with a group of people who have such a distinguished record in struggling for causes that he believes in, and then said, “I’m not afraid to use that word, here it comes – S O C I A L I S M,” which drew a rousing response from the audience in the oval building at the Exhibition Grounds Park in Ramat Aviv, next to the Luna Park and the Yarkon River, the traditional home for many Israeli party conventions.

While all of the delegates who spoke in the discussion supported the direction of the initiative, some expressed concern that the joint Jewish-Arab nature of Meretz would be damaged by the arrangement. Israeli-Palestinian Isawi Freij, was originally supposed to be in the 7th slot in the internal Meretz elections reserved for an Arab MK, and because of the new arrangement was moved to the l0th position, and some delegates proposed a rearrangement of the list to overcome this problem, a proposal I supported. In his response, Jumas said that Meretz has always been and will remain a Jewish-Arab partnership, and that all sorts of list combinations were considered and the majority in the leadership felt that this was the best possible balance. And he added “the union between Meretz and the New Movement makes the l0th position in the Knesset a much more realistic one than the 7th position if Meretz ran alone.”

Before the convention, energetic Meretz younger generation head Uri Zaki (32 years old, #13 on the list) arranged a meeting between members of the Meretz list and some of the New Movement candidates as a getting-to-know-you encounter, which left a very good impression on all who participated. In the end, 87% of the delegates voted for the proposed list, with the others abstaining and just a small handful voting against.

P.S. Tzali Reshef was asked by Nachum Barnea why he’s supporting Meretz rather than Ehud Barak. His response as published in the weekend Yediot Ahronot was that “Jumas has just as much chance as Ehud Barak of becoming prime minister this time around, and he’s more worthy.” And the truth is, there are many Meretz members who think that Jumas should propose his candidacy for prime minister.

By | 2008-12-24T05:40:00-05:00 December 24th, 2008|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Yehuda Erdman December 27, 2008 at 5:38 am - Reply

    This is all very exciting stuff! As Chair of the Meretz UK branch in London, I have a great feeling of optimism that in this coming Knesset, the new allignment between Meretz and the new Left party will make a much bigger impact than was possible before. Not just because of the potentially bigger number of M.K.s, but also because Israel is crying out for new leadership that can express the big issues in simple terms that the ordinary voter can understand and sign up to.
    The other big topic that Hillel Schenker alluded to in his description of Zehava Galon, is the essential requirement to root out corruption and sleaze in Israeli politics. It has somehow infiltrated every level of society and MUST be tackled. Meretz and its predecessor Mapam have fortunately never been tarred with that brush and can launch a campaign to force reform.

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