My father once told me that the most patriotic thing one can do for their country is to question it: challenge its leaders, oppose policies which violate its founding ideals, and protest policy decisions which betray the trust and good name of its citizens. At the time, of course, I didn’t understand what that meant; but now, as a newly-minted 28 year old man, I believe that I am finally beginning to. The Hebrew slogan of the Meretz party translates to English as “The Israeli Left” or “The Left of Israel”. However, I think a better, and more meaningful slogan would be “Israel’s Conscience”. In this election, more than ever, it is important that we, as a nation, vote with our consciences.

Netanyahu is a tyrant

Hyperbole aside, Netanyahu has repeatedly acted in a way more befitting a tyrant – or, at best, the standard middle eastern strong man – than a democratically elected premier. He has stolen public funds for his own personal pet projects that help no one but his friends. His wife has also pilfered public funds for her own personal gain. When this has happened in previous administrations, it resulted in public outrage leading to almost immediate resignation of those responsible.

Netanyahu has repeatedly attempted to pass through directives and legislation that are, according to the Supreme Court, illegal, and when the courts have refused to let him get away with it, he has tried to bypass, or otherwise eliminate, the Supreme Court in the legislative process. He has done seemingly everything he possibly could to alienate this country in the international community, including most recently, our closest ally, the United States. His most recent diplomatic faux pas with the Obama administration has set back US-Israel relations more than any previous Israeli or American administration, all over an imagined slight, which in fact means that Obama refused to go along with him doing whatever he wanted, without consequences.

Further, he has the audacity to claim that he, as the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, speaks for all Jews, everywhere, both Israeli and not. Not only is this claim offencive and specious in and of itself, but it has actual negative repurcussions. His claims to speak for all Jews puts diaspora Jews, as well as Israelis living abroad, in danger. It is of course not my intention to defend recent anti-semitic attacks or their horrid justifications (i.e. that due to Israeli policy, Jews abroad are fair targets for abuse and attack). Nevertheless, there are those who would do harm to diaspora Jews for just that reason – and have done so already, as was tragically proven at the recent attack in Paris – and claiming that he speaks for all Jews, and his policies are representative of our ideals and beliefs as a whole is offencive in a way that belies words. These attitudes have also harmed relations with Jewish communities outside of Israel, such as most recently, the American and French Jewish communities. Inter alia, these are not the actions of a democratic leader, but of a tyrant.

Meretz is both Leftist AND Zionist

It has become “chic” to dismiss all Leftist parties as non-Zionist, or worse, anti-Zionist as a blanket claim, often without examining the actual platforms or policies of those parties, as a way to destroy their legitimacy. It has been suggested that this is a consequence of the failure of the Israeli Left to deliver either peace or security from Oslo and Camp David. This is not the place to discuss the legitimacy of this claim, or lack thereof. However, we must deal with the fact that, for whatever reason, Israeli politics has moved decidedly and sharply to the right over the past fifteen or so years; the current generation of young, voting-age Israelis is the most right-wing, hyper-nationalistic this country has ever seen. This, I feel, is not only objectively and factually wrong, but also morally wrong, and poses the greatest existential threat to Israel’s existence in its current form.

Given the trend towards right-wing hyper-nationalism, it is not a surprise that many interpret “Zionism” through the Likud-sponsored, maximalist, expansionist, Jabotinskyist lens. A lens which condemns and denies any views in opposition of maximalist expansion of the Israeli state as “anti-Zionist”. It is also, however, unfortunately clear that these people are woefully unread and ignorant of the actual literature and philosophy of the Zionist movement, the movement in whose name they claim to work. I doubt that any of the major Zionist thinkers, including Jabotinksy, would recognise the Israel of today with the vision they held when writing and philosophising. A skittish, self-conscious, hyper-nationalist State, with a large percentage of its population hyper-nationalist to the point of electing and supporting governments which routinely implement anti-democratic, xenophobic policies, and living in a constant “siege mentality” is, assuredly, not the vision shared by visionaries such as Theodor Herzl, Ehad Ha’Am, Chaim Weitzmann, or others. They envisioned an open, free, liberal and democratic society; a self-assured state at home amongst the other Nation-States of the world. They shared a vision of a “State for the Jews”, where the Jewish Nation could form a state for themselves which would be, to paraphrase another great statesman, “of, by, and for, themselves” but which did not prejudice the rights of other people living there as equal citizens under the law or in society. This is a subtle, but important, distinction to make, as the Israel of today is believed by many to be the “Jewish State”, a claim which carries a much different rhetorical and political burden, and which enables things like the creeping, coercive theocracy of the rabbanut, or xenophobic policies against Arab citizens of Israel, or non-Jewish immigrants and migrants. This is not to say that the average Israeli citizen is a racist or a xenophobe, but as the saying “No one is free whilst others are oppressed” is true, so, too, is every xenophobic, anti-democratic policy one policy too many.

Amos Oz has famously, if bombastically, elaborated on this point, stating that the Netanyahu government is “the most anti-Zionist government Israel has ever had”. He argues that this is the case because by constant sabre rattling and posturing against those who would attack us, frequent incursions into the West Bank, and an only marginally – if that – successful military operation against Hamas only serve to strengthen the position of the hardliners, such as Abu Mazen, in their fight against Israel, rather than give credence to those who would come to the negotiation table. Oz argued that this could be intentional, “Perhaps that is the intention, to stop the chance for two states. They believe that Jews can rule over Arabs for a long time”. However, he argued, and this is a stance on which I, and the late former Prime Minister Rabin, agree with him on, this cannot be the case. This constant emphasis on maximalist territorial expansion, on ruling over all of the historical land of Israel is untenable, if Israel wishes to maintain itself as the State for the Jews, in a democratic and Zionist framework. The constant denial of the Palestinian question, the denial of their presence, their narrative and their right – just as we have the right – to self determination will either result in Israel turning into an oppressive, apartheid regime, or an Arab state – not a bi-national one – thus, destroying Israel and Zionism as a failed political experiment. To me, neither of these options is acceptable. Meretz is currently the only party in the Knesset willing to address the occupation head-on, and offer pragmatic solutions. The only way to preserve the Israel we know and love is to end the occupation, and to end, permanently, the concept of greater Israel and annexing land on which the Palestinians hold a majority. It is the only solution which is in agreement with both democratic values and Zionism. Further, I question any so-called Zionist who proudly trumpets the Jewish People’s right to self-determination in their land, whilst at the same time denying that right to Palestinians. Meretz is the only party which addresses these issues.

Meretz is Feminist

Meretz is the only party in the Knesset with completely equal representation between men and women. In the past session of Knesset alone, Meretz helped to pass numerous bills advancing women’s rights in Israel, including equal representation and pay for women in the workplace, protection for women who are the victims of violence, benefits payments for women in shelters and for single mothers. Meretz is the only party which shows through deeds, not words, that it believes in – and fights for – the fundamental equality of men and women in society and the law.

Meretz is pro-LGBT+ Rights

This issue may be more important than ever, especially for a country which prides itself – as we do – on our open and tolerant (though perhaps we should move beyond “tolerance” in 2015) stance towards members of the LGBT community. Meretz actively fights against the religious institutions and their discrimination against members of the LGBT community. This is especially the case in terms of Meretz’s policy of fighting for the establishment of civil marriage and divorce in Israel, which would be a landmark step towards legalising gay marriage (and divorce), in Israel. They have fought for bills which criminalise discrimination based on gender identity or sexual preference.

Meretz is pro-Secularism

As anyone who lives here in Israel knows, the religious communities, and more importantly, the religious authority has a very real power over the daily lives of citizens. There is no such thing as secular, civil marriage in this country, for homosexual or heterosexual couples. Except in Haifa, public transportation does not run on Shabbat. There are heavy fines for businesses which remain open on Shabbat, which means that unless they are in a highly-secular area, and cater to largely-secular clientele, such as in Tel Aviv, almost every business must close for business on Shabbat, regardless of whether or not the business owner is shomer Shabbat. The rabbanut controls every aspect of “correct” Jewish practice in this country, creating a near-monopoly on black-hat, Ashkenazi orthodoxy, and opposing the rabbanut can lead, as has been recently demonstrated with the issue of non-Orthodox marriage, to heavy punishment, including prison sentences. These are the hallmarks of theocracy, not democracy, and the only way to stop it is to support pro-Secular parties, like Meretz.

Meretz works for all of us

At its core, Meretz is an ideological party. A party whose ideals are based on freedom, equality, secularism, and social democracy. Meretz has assumed the torch once held aloft by Labour, before the “reforms” of the nineties and early 2000s. It is a party which represents the needs of all Israelis, rich or poor, pale or dark, educated or not. In the rhetoric of the old, socialist, Labour party, Meretz represents “the workers”.

Meretz has worked long and hard for greater integration between communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike; it has worked towards and helped to pass legislation which aims to end housing discrimination along ethnic lines. It has worked to greater integrate new immigrants, as well as migrants and refugees into greater Israeli society, a task that no other party has deemed important enough to work towards. It is, to my eye, the only party which puts its money where its mouth is, in regards to seeing all Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, as equally valid and important members of Israeli society. It works towards the protection and economic rights of the average Israeli citizen in the Knesset. Its most recent and famous success is the “Haircut Law” which protects the public good and the average citizen, rather than the wealth and privilege of the rich.

It is no secret that Likud, Bayit HaYehudi and other right-wing parties care little, if at all, for the plight of the average Israeli. That is clear by their legislative record. The centrist parties, like Yesh Atid and Kulanu claim to work for the workers and the average, middle class Israeli, but have done little to actually prove this. Labour – with the exception of Stav Shaffir – has abandoned its ideals, and routinely crawls to Likud, seeking appointments in successive Likud governments. The remaining Leftist parties – and by that I mean Hadash and the Arab parties – offer no better choice, as they either are equally poor on socio-economic issues, or themselves seek the destruction of Israel as we know it. The religious parties offer no alternative as they only seek to look out for their own, and further solidify the hold of the intractable rabbanut mafia on the populace. Meretz is the only viable choice.

Meretz and Security

One of the most popular critiques against Meretz is that it has no viable plan for security. Any government which Meretz were to be a part of would be a coalition government, and would therefore include a detailed security position from someone within the coalition. Therefore, having a security platform – and by that, Israeli political rhetoric means specifically for the army – is not of the utmost importance to Meretz.

But to say that Meretz has no security plan is a misnomer. Yes, Meretz’s vision of security is much less hawkish than almost every other party, but that doesn’t mean that, should they become part of the government, if Israel were in real imminent danger that they would do nothing. This is, after all, their home, too. The IDF is the greatest military in the region and more than capable of kicking the teeth out of any enemy in the region, should the need arise, and the budgetary re-allocation which Meretz proposes would do nothing to change this fact.

However, it is the ideological view of Meretz that security encompasses far more than simply the army. A Meretz view of security relies heavily on diplomacy and negotiation, in which the military option really is an option of last resort. Let us return to this view of security, one where we “speak softly, and carry a big stick”, rather than view ourselves as constantly under attack like some kind of caged animal.

Finally, a country which governs itself by the ideals which Meretz stands for will, as a consequence, be more secure. A country which works for inter-ethnic inclusion, secularism, and socio-economic security for the working classes, rather than simply the benefit of those already wealthy and powerful will be secure, because it will have citizens whom no longer benefit from conflict. If people feel included, have good jobs, make good money, have affordable housing, and feel they are equal and valuable members of society will be too busy building their lives to fight amongst themselves or their neighbours. They will have less reasons to be involved in crime, gangs, or terrorism, and those that do will be more likely to be shunned and ostracised by their peers. A society envisioned by Meretz is an inclusive, productive, peaceful and secure one, and Meretz is the only party which focuses on the real issues of making this society and country what it has the potential to be, rather than chasing ghosts and bogeymen in the night, or using fear tactics to garner votes. Security is not merely a military issue. Safeguarding the socio-economic security of all Israeli citizens is equally, if not more, important, and Meretz is the only party which works towards this goal.

Why we need Meretz

Above I have outlined why we, as a nation, must oust Netanyahu, and why I believe Meretz to be the best party which represents the needs of the average Israeli citizen. But why do we need Meretz? Meretz is our conscience. Rather than letting itself get bogged down in rhetoric about “security”, i.e. the army, a subject which the right-wing focuses on primarily because they know that that is how they can win voters, Meretz fights for things that we actually need, as a country.

Our education system desperately needs to be overhauled. Our hospitals and health system, whilst one of the best in the world, is drastically over-worked, with hospitals severely over-crowded and understaffed, and facing constant threats of privatisation and discrimination. Our housing sector is volatile, with rents skyrocketing, and young Israelis only able to wistfully dream about buying a place of their own. We have one of the highest costs of living in the world, and the highest poverty level of any western, developed nation. Despite being essentially a European state, in terms of state infrastructure, our cost of living is higher and our salaries are on average lower, than our European counterparts. Our public transportation system lags 25 years, at least, behind Europe. Almsost everyone is living in constant debt. Is it any wonder why our young, educated, motivated citizens are leaving at an alarming rate? It seems that almost anyone who can get a visa to study, work, and live abroad, does. The rabbanut has a stranglehold on our civil society. The average Israeli has little to no actual economic protection, and the kibbutzim and moshavim which helped to build this country have been gutted almost beyond repair, withering on the vine as little more than forcibly-privatised villages. If there was ever a time to focus on issues other than the military, it is now.

Right now, Israel needs a consceince. We, as a nation need to use our consceince and exercise our own good sense, and vote in our own best interests. If our country is allowed to continue down the path it is heading, I worry that in twenty years’ time it will be just yet another Middle Eastern petty dictatorship. I love this country, and it saddens and angers me deeply to see it continue going down that path. It makes me sad, yes, but mostly it makes me angry. It makes me angry, looking at the almost limitless potential for greatness we have in this country, and we squander it like spoilt children. Which is why this election, I will vote with my conscience. I am voting for Meretz.