|Zehava Gal-On meeting with us in Tel Aviv, Oct. 2012 (photo by Hillel Schenker)
Judging from the Q & A, callers joined us from at least as far away as Britain, California and Canada. In this second direct encounter I’ve had with Zehava Gal-On (albeit via the phone this time), she continues to impress me as warm, thoughtful and principled — not the dogmatic left-wing firebrand that most Israelis probably imagine.
She has won praise for leading Meretz back from the brink of extinction at three seats to six (almost seven), and the kudos continued during this talk. But I did experience a small disappointment — less about her than the weight of Israel’s Arab/Jewish divide.
Based upon our Israel Symposium’s session with Hadash/DFPE (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) Member of Knesset Dov Khenin, the highly respected lone Jewish MK in their four-member parliamentary team, I asked if a joint list of Meretz and Hadash might be possible. The two parties share views on most issues regarding a negotiated two-state solution and equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens, and they often cooperate, but she feels that their rhetoric changes substantially depending upon whether their leaders are addressing Jews or Arabs.
Apparently, differences make for too heavy a lift to create a single list: Meretz is a solidly
social democratic party (a member of the Socialist International in good standing) and a Zionist party that welcomes Arab involvement; in this election, she noted with pride that it is the only Jewish-majority party that has succeeded in electing an Arab Israeli (#5 on its list). She also proudly indicated that it’s the only mostly Jewish party to have endorsed the Palestinian move toward statehood at the United Nations.
Hadash has Communist roots, is officially bi-nationalist, and draws 85-90% of its support from Arab voters. It claims to have learned from the Soviet experience that, in the words of MK Khenin, “socialism is impossible without democracy.”
So Gal-On, while mentioning her respect for Khenin and looking forward to continuing to cooperate with Hadash on a variety of issues, ruled out a joint list. Meretz has also categorically rejected joining a coalition with Netanyahu. Gal-On predicts that because of Israel’s looming 10 billion dollar deficit, necessitating some painful budget cuts, Netanyahu would want as large a coalition as he can manage, to insulate himself from some of the blame.
As for Lapid’s signature issue to make the ultra-Orthodox (haredim) subject to the military draft (or at least national service), she sees it as more important to have them in jobs than in the army. And she is not optimistic about the near-term prospects for peace, partially because she doesn’t trust Netanayhu’s willingness to make a reasonable deal with Abbas for two states, but also because his party is more hardline than it used to be. Moreover, she doesn’t know how far Lapid is willing to go for the sake of peace.
The key differences with Labor this time, were two-fold:
- that its leader Shelly Yachimovich has reportedly denied that Labor is traditionally on the left, while the Meretz campaign explicitly embraced its leftist image;
- and Yachimovich emphasized only socioeconomic issues, ignoring questions of peace and security. Gal-On indicates that these matters are inseparable, because of the vast expenditures made by Israel in the Occupied Territories.