Below I have included my arguments — as a voter coming from a right-wing, religious background, and who voted for Bayit Yehudi in 2015 — in favor of a vote for the Democratic Union. If you find yourself still hesitating between the different options in this final homestretch — as, I believe, many of us are — and if you find yourself aligned with the Right or the Center, then I encourage you to have a read. Some parts may really surprise you.
While I originally posted this in March of this year, and in respect of the previous election cycle, I believe that the material considerations at play remain unchanged, and that the analysis remains relevant. I have made minor adaptations to the original post.
Let’s talk about Meretz.
Meretz has long been the boogeyman of the Israeli Right, which sees them as the far-Left secular, anti-Zionist and, essentially, anti-Jewish party. Meretz has also, in recent years, fallen deeper and deeper into irrelevance as its stubborn focus on the peace process is increasingly perceived as divorced of the reality on the ground. In recent elections, it has barely crossed the electoral threshold.
I have come to considering Meretz because – as I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing – the electoral options presented for the April 2019 general elections have proven dismal. If 2015 was dominated by the preponderance of ever-multiplying and directionless centrist parties, 2019 has seen these effectively erased and replaced with a preponderance of ever-multiplying and directionless Right-wing parties, with a dash of normalized casual racism thrown in for good measure. For those concerned with holding the center and minding the long-term viability of the Jewish State, there are no good options, and as such, all options must be considered. Increasingly, the “far-Left” is becoming the closest thing Israel has to an ideological center, while the far-Right drifts further and further into the abyss of alt-right Kekistan that has effectively swallowed it entire in the US.
This is not to say that I don’t continue to have reservations about Meretz; however, based on my examination of its platform and the circumstances of this election, I am currently appraised that they are the most appropriate ideological home for centrist voters. Below I will briefly describe the platform, my considerations for and against, and ultimately, my conclusions:
One of the immediate advantages I see in Meretz is the existence of a fully comprehensive and accessible platform, that is based on a time-honored and consistent ideology. This is in stark contrast to the many parties forming with vague, amorphous platforms and no recognizable ideology (Kachol Lavan, Likud), on the one hand, and platforms with distinctly populist, unrealistic and/or intentionally misleading platforms (Yamina, Zehut) on the other. This platform addresses some of Israel’s most contentious issues head-on, in ways that, while sometimes imperfect, are nonetheless pragmatic and morally compelling.
1. The Nation State. Meretz attempts to address the controversy surrounding the Nation State Law, which really represents a deeper ideological rift regarding Israel’s identity. The law was praised by the Right for seeming to cement Israel’s status as the unique home of the Jewish people, while scathingly attacked on the Left for alienating Israel’s minorities, including important allies. While my assumption had been that, as the “far-Left,” Meretz would promote a “Country of All Its Citizens” (i.e. anti-Zionism), this is actually not the case; the platform instead employs a bit of rhetorical flourish to promote “A Jewish Home and State of All Its Citizens.” The platform explains that while the Jewish nation is uniquely entitled to exercise its self-determination within the borders of the State, it must also be a country in which all citizens’ rights are equally protected – including collective rights. On the specific level, the platform calls to cancel the Nation State Law and instead enshrine the legal status of the Declaration of Independence as a founding document. It also calls for official recognition of minority languages and holidays. I find this resolution to be a wholly satisfactory solution because, in practice, the Declaration of Independence has already served as the basis for the Constitutional Revolution, and its language contains all of the safeguards to the Jewish State contained in the Nation State Law, as well as further protections for basic freedoms, all without antagonizing minorities. Furthermore, to the extent that recognition of minority languages and cultures does not derogate from the Jewish character of the State of Israel, this approach seems most consistent with its democratic character.
Similarly, on the legal plain, the platform calls for the rapid codification of the Constitution to bring authoritative legitimacy to the branches of Israel’s government and stability to its separation of powers. While I would have liked to see more push for practical action in this regard, beggars can’t be choosers: it is the only platform I have examined thus far that addresses the paramount importance of the Constitution at all.
Other Meretz initiatives that have been pilloried on the right were also discovered to be widely misrepresented. For example, Meretz opposes the law calling on foreign-funded NGO’s to disclose contributions – which might seem cynical, except that they promote legislature requiring ALL NGO’s to disclose. Rather than trying to hide foreign contributors, as the Right suggests, this initiative merely seeks to ensure that standards are applied uniformly – and not only to certain political camps.
Other welcome governance initiatives that were conspicuously absent from the platforms of other parties include: Adopting the UN Human Rights charter and the Fourth Geneva Convention; terminating the State of Emergency that has been in effect for more than 70 years; reforming immigration legislation (parallel to the Law of Return, which would remain in effect); and elimination of administrative detention (I would have expected to see Zehut championing this cause, as “libertarians”). The platform also contains welcome and sorely-needed anti-corruption and antitrust initiatives.
2. Anti-discrimination. Meretz considers itself the flagship of equality and plurality, and its platform shows this. There are provisions for ending the religious-coercion state; achieving full equal rights and protections for women, minorities and LGBT; land and real-estate reform; and protecting workers’ rights – including government-subsidized free daycare from 3 months, and free afternoon daycare programs (“Tzaharonim”). Religious families should take note of how drastically the adoption of these initiatives would improve their financial situations, as daycare is one of the biggest monthly expenses young religious families contend with, second only to rent, and multiplies exponentially for larger families with working parents. Meretz would also seek to enforce the core curriculum, allowing children in the Hareidi sector to acquire the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce regardless of their parents’ ideologies.
Meretz attracted me initially with their focus on separation of church and state – and they don’t disappoint. Aside from removing personal status and marriage from the purview of the Rabbinate and taking measures to combat “hadarat nashim,” Meretz would allow those seeking to convert to Judaism to do so under Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or other ceremonies, as per their preference. In respect of the Law of Return and determination of Jewishness for citizenship, it proposes: “Jewish conversion and belonging to the Jewish nation will be determined in accordance with any individual declaring their Jewishness in good faith, who has tied their fate with that of the Jewish people.” This was the standard in effect initially upon Israel’s founding, and would be a welcome and desperately needed reversal of the Orthodox stranglehold on Israeli citizenship. Notably, the “good faith” requirement gives the government investigative authorities that ought to dispel concerns on the Right that a looser standard of Jewishness would lead to abuse of the system by enemies of the state.
3. Diplomacy. As expected, the Meretz platform continues to call for a 2-state solution, but does so in a format that is more immediately pragmatic than the initiatives advanced by Likud in previous rounds of negotiations. Meretz endorses immediate negotiations based on the Saudi Initiative – but with mutual land-swaps to preserve Israeli control of the large settlement blocks. Yes, and I think that bears repeating: Meretz does not call to remove the large settlement blocks – perhaps the greatest of all boogeymen promoted by the Right. To me, this was certainly a surprise. Meretz does call for the unilateral evacuation of smaller and isolated settlements outside of the main blocks. I fault them for this approach, since it seems needlessly divisive to uproot these communities prior to reaching a settlement, and this also seems to legitimize the Palestinian insistence on a “Judenrein” Palestine, which I find to be completely unacceptable and a dangerous precedent.
On the other hand, leaving those tangential issues aside, the Saudi Initiative holds huge advantages for Israel over the current stalled process: First of all, it would include a comprehensive diplomatic arrangement with all Arab states in the region, and is already approved by these parties de facto; second of all, there would be tremendous pressure on the Palestinians to accept such an offer and break the deadlock, and their failure to do so would go a long way toward absolving Israel of any perceived responsibility for the status quo throughout the Arab and Western worlds.
Ultimately, their approach does leave one gaping issue, which I find to be the most difficult part of their platform to swallow: The Jordan Valley. Commencing negotiations based on the Saudi Initiative would make it very difficult to insist on its retention, and, as most any Israeli conservative can tell you, the military indefensibility of Israel’s territory in absence of a Jordan Valley garrison is perhaps the number one reason that Israelis in the Right and Center are flocking away from the two-state solution. Meretz does not seem to be fully attuned to this concern. The platform does propose a long-term international presence in the Valley to ensure military defensibility, but whether on the basis of Zionist ideology or essentially the entire military history of the State, I don’t see how they expect the population to take this proposal seriously. We won’t trust an international presence to secure our borders, and history evidences that we are right not to trust them. Therefore, I deem the failure to insist on the Jordan Valley garrison – which would grant Israel the strategic depth to fend off even a militarized Palestine independently – to be the single critical failure of this platform.
In essence, as shown above, the Meretz platform does not call for any sweeping changes that would be associated with radical liberalism or socialism, apart from basic and fundamental equality initiatives that most all Centrist Israelis – and, I believe, many Right-wing Israelis as well – already support. Certainly, at a time when Right-wing religious Israelis are being pressured to embrace the open racism and fascism of Otzma, religious Jews should consider the alternative of a Center-Left and, ultimately, Zionist party with the potential to restore the prestige of the religious sector by removing the stain of religious coercion from governance. Furthermore, most Centrist Israelis are aware, whether or not they want to admit it, that the current stalemate with the Palestinians is not sustainable in the long-term. It behooves our country to take the diplomatic initiative before Abu Mazen dies or the government in Gaza collapses, in order to create a diplomatic framework around which moderate Palestinians can organize to fill the power vacuum. Otherwise, that vacuum will only be filled by increasingly more radical and belligerent enemies like Islamic Jihad, the PRC or Daesh, and our window of opportunity will be lost.
I have heard other criticisms of Meretz, some of which are not easily dismissed. The conduct of certain Meretz leaders, and particularly Zandberg, in meeting with unsavory Palestinian figures has been questioned, although I am able to understand these in the framework of attempts at normalization, given their desire to advance on the diplomatic track. More worrisome are the recent claims of silencing sexual assault victims who came forward against senior party activists. I have done my best to examine those claims from several angles, and determined that the excuses provided by the party for their failures in addressing this issue were far from satisfactory. This raises serious concerns for the party’s integrity and self-governance, not least for a party that champions feminism as one of its flagship issues. On the other hand, nearly all the other parties – with the exception of Yamina, perhaps – have demonstrably worse figures commanding them, and without the advantage of a comprehensive ideological platform that I can support.
Perhaps most importantly, I have concluded that, notwithstanding reports to the contrary, Meretz remains a Zionist party, whose initiatives are aimed at preserving the long-term viability of the Jewish State, rather than dismantling it. They are the only party I have seen with a viable and forward-looking strategy that addresses all of the difficulties Israel will be made to contend with over the next few years – despite that these issues are neither popular nor trending in 2019. While Meretz has shrunk as a driving force in Israeli politics, I feel fairly confident that it will cross the threshold; therefore, a vote for them will not be wasted and can still serve to unseat Bibi, without being haphazardly launched into the cloud of opacity that is Benny Gantz. As far as I am concerned, and until convinced otherwise, I am presently confident that Meretz is the party most deserving of my vote, and I would encourage other Centrist and even Right-wing religious Israelis to follow suit. The Left is not a boogeyman, nor is it anti-Zionist – it simply advocates for a more stable and responsible Jewish State.
Attached is a link to the platform, for consideration. https://elections.meretz.org.il/…/…/2019/03/מצע-מרצ-2019.pdf
A link to the English language platform: https://elections.meretz.org.il/…/2…/04/platform-english.pdf