Writing from his home in Israel, Meretz party member Hillel Schenker has kindly passed on these thoughts ahead of the February 10 elections:
There have been a lot of references recently to NYTimes articles on Gaza, and I think that Ethan Bronner is doing a very good job of reporting the nuances of what’s been happening.
Yet we just witnessed a very unusual display of journalism by Haaretz this [past] week. There was Ari Shavit’s hatchet job on Tzippy Livni, which I felt smelled of chutzpa, since all of the sources for his negative accounting of her personality were unnamed. There may be a lot to criticize about her, but that’s not the way to do it.
Then we had Let Netanyahu Win by Gideon Levy, since a Netanyahu-Lieberman government will reveal “the true face of Israeli society”, bring the Palestinian Authority to an end, and force the international community to broker a solution.
But the height of Haaretz unique journalism this week was the combination of an editorial which said no reason to vote for Meretz because when the chips were down, it didn’t oppose the launching of the Gaza military operation on day one, and therefore is not a leftwing party – coupled the following day with a major op-ed by the publisher Amos Shocken headlined I’m voting Meretz – and a very supportive interview with Meretz leader Jumes (MK Chaim Oron) by Shavit Meretz leader to Haaretz: Two-state solution on last legs …, plus the lead letter in the Hebrew edition was a letter from former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni protesting the editorial.
So where do I stand? I’m voting Meretz too. And the reasons are the following:
1) Meretz, though I was unhappy with the position expressed by Jumes and those leaders who represented the party at the outbreak of the war, is the party who’s overall values and positions I most identify with, in the area of war and peace, promotion of a realistic political solution to the conflict based upon a two state solution, and its positions on a whole slew of social, economic, educational, environmental and human rights issues, a pluralistic society, separation of religion and state, equality between Jewish and Arab citizens, gay rights, workers rights, etc. etc., everything which falls under the heading of a truly Jewish and democratic state.
2) The Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu racist phenomenon poses a serious danger to Israeli society, and Meretz is the only Zionist party which has declared that it will not sit in a government together with Lieberman (and Netanyahu), the only Zionist party to challenge Lieberman directly. Meretz MK candidate Mossi Raz has been participating in panels at high schools around the country, and he says its frightening to see how enthusiastic many of the youth are about Lieberman and his ideas.
3) Today, I still think there is a possibility that Livni, and not Netanyahu, will be the next PM (granted that Netanyahu is the more likely one). To enhance the chance of that possibility, I have been recommending to people to vote for Meretz, or at least to vote for one of the partners to a potential center-left bloc: Kadima, Labor or Hadash (which would support such a government from the outside). Kadima and Barak’s readiness to sit with Netanyahu and Lieberman in the eventuality that Netanyahu becomes PM is what leads me to say that Meretz is the best option. And I would add that to vote for either the Green Party, the Meimad-Green Movement or the Pensioners, all of which are expected not to vote the minimum threshold needed to get into the Knesset, would be like voting for Ralph Nader in the American elections, a wasted vote that could cost the center-left one or two crucial seats in the Knesset.
4) Jumes is really a different type of anti-politician, with integrity, and he offers a clear contrast to all of the other party leaders. Despite my disagreements with him, I also think he managed to encompass the different conflicting views within Meretz about the Gaza War in a very effective manner. He also encouraged the establishment of the New Movement partners with Meretz, and if it weren’t for the war, Meretz was predicted to win between 8-10 seats with the energy aroused by the infusion of new blood into the party.
5) And finally, the Meretz MK candidates are all excellent, very good current and potential parliamentarians.
I was at the Meretz campaign launching in the trendy Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv port area after the war ended. Over l,000 excited people were there, and I just want to relate a few vignettes.
Two people who came out #1 in past Labor primaries were there, Uzi Baram and Avram Burg. Baram, a former Labor Party chairperson, said that he was used to speaking in the context of a party that was either government, or an option to replace the government. However, given what Barak has done to the Labor Party, he felt that the only party left that represented his views about Israeli society is Meretz, and that’s why he came.
Two West Bank settlers were there, and they spoke from the audience, saying that they wanted to thank MK Abu (Avshalom) Vilan for advocating the Evacuation/Compensation law. They say that at least 50,000 settlers on the other side of the Green Line are ready to move back to Israel, if and when the law will be enacted. All they need is the funds to rebuild their lives.
A principal of a high school from Ashdod was there, which suffered from rockets during the war, and he said that he had just joined Meretz because he is very disturbed about the direction that Israeli society is going in, and Meretz represents the values that he wants to educate his students towards.
The executive director of the organization of long haul trucks (50,000 drivers) also said he joined Meretz 2 weeks ago, because although he represents private enterprise, they want to treat all there drivers fairly, and he said that only Jumes in the Finance Committee was ready to give serious attention to their request for reform of laws, and they know that Meretz #2 former MK Ilan Gilon will be fighting for workers’ rights. He said that sitting next to him in the crowd was an Arab director of a fleet of 300 taxi drivers, who feels the same way.
The young representatives of Hashomer Hatzair and the Arab pioneering youth group spoke passionately and eloquently about the future of Israeli society.
Lawyer Talia Sasson, # 7 on the Knesset list, the author of the Sasson report on the illegal outposts, and one of the reps of the New Movement partners of Meretz, expressed her appreciation for having been welcomed to Meretz as an outsider, and felt proud to join the political struggle, alongside those who have already given so much of their time, dedication and efforts to the struggle over the future of Israeli society.
Similar thoughts had been expressed by # 3 on the list, journalist and environmental activist Nitzan Horowitz, at an earlier meeting of the Meretz Convention. Since he lives with a male partner, Horowitz will also be representing the gay rights interests.
# 10 on the list Arab candidate Esawa Freij, he sounded like he was trained in public speaking in Hyde Park or Union Square, said that while wishing he was higher on the list, he is determined to conitnue struggling for the common cause.
Jumes summed it all up with a call not to give in to apathy or fatalism, and the declaration that every vote counts.
And finally, if I weren’t voting for Meretz, and didn’t agree that every vote counts, I have a great deal of admiration for 35 year old Asma Agbaria-Jahalka, who established and leads the little Da’am Party. Born in Jaffa, she first sought answers in the Islamic movement, but after studying at a university, she was exposed to more universal values, and entered political life to try to represent workers rights on a totally egalitarian basis – her number 2 is a young Jew, Nir Nadar, who decided to do the same thing. She is the only other female leader of an Israeli party today, and she is the only Arab candidate who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic in her campaign ads, an expression of her encompassing views.
I saw her appear two years ago at a WIZO panel of women candidates for the Knesset, and she even impressed that audience, which is quite a feat. So I wish her well, particularly since she says that the goal is to continue struggling for the values she espouses, in or outside of the Knesset.