Aluf Benn, chief editor of Haaretz, met with our Israel Symposium delegation in Tel Aviv, this past October. I was impressed with his calm astute analysis, especially in his pointing out that if alienated Tel Avivians and suburban voters were to actually vote, along with Israeli Arabs who used to vote, the left/dovish bloc could return to power with a shift of a mere six seats.
The election campaign has just become more complicated, however, with the reemergence of Tzipi Livni as head of a new party list called Hatenuah (the Movement). It is currently polling at seven seats, but basically drawn from other centrist and center-left lists; Livni seems to have more or less obliterated prospects for Kadima and complicated life for Labor and Yair Lapid. But there’s also something of a challenge for Meretz here, because even though (unlike Meretz) Livni does not take a progressive stand on economic and social issues, Meretz is no longer the only party daring to advocate moving forward on peace with the Palestinians. (In another shakeout, Ehud Barak has again retired from politics, giving up on his “Independence party” splitoff from Labor, now even more certain than Kadima to be headed for oblivion.)
In an article quoted from below, Aluf Benn writes nostalgically of one-time Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni, the first of three equal leaders of Meretz when as a bloc of three political parties in 1992 (not yet coalesced into one), it was at the height of its influence with 10% of the seats in the Knesset. He also writes hopefully of Meretz today (but prior to Livni’s reentry into politics):
“Missing Shulamit Aloni”: The former Meretz Knesset member will celebrate her 84th birthday this week, giving us an opportunity to yearn for the left-wing leadership that was.
…. [Labor’s Shelly] Yacimovich is charismatic and likes to engage in battle no less than Aloni. But their positions are completely different. The Labor leader doesn’t object to the primacy of the army, the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox when it comes to dividing up the national pie. You won’t find Yacimovich aggravating the religious, or criticizing the combat ethics of the Israel Defense Forces or land theft in the territories. She is willing for Meretz [to] have some of Labor’s left-wing voters, as long as she is comfortably located in the political center.
The rightward shift of Yacimovich and Lapid, along with the dissolution of Kadima, will bring Meretz back some of the voters who abandoned it in the past decade, and it’s looking like those extra votes will be enough to win Meretz more seats in the Knesset. But to what end? True, the Meretz of today is conveying the same messages as it did in Aloni’s time, and it’s hard to find flaws in their platform. Just the fire is missing. Meretz’s “Leftists come home!” campaign seems more like an invitation to a party than an indication of a war for the home front.
The political circumstances of this election mean that Meretz has a rare chance to stand out from the pack that will be crowding around Netanyahu’s expansive coalition after the election. That’s what Aloni did in the Shamir era, with bells and whistles, and that’s what she would be doing today if she were still involved in politics. And it’s what Zahava Gal-On, the current Meretz leader, must do if she wants to create a genuine left that is not just alive, but kicking.