March Elections Quick Hits

1.The now not-so-newly united Labor-Gesher-Meretz has had a tough time of it in the polls lately. One recent recent survey found that the party’s support had reached a low of 7 seats – only 1 better than Labor-Gesher’s total from the September 2019 elections, when they ran without Meretz. Public attention has in recent weeks been largely split between the debate regarding immunity for Netanyahu (Blue and White’s preferred playing field) and Trump’s deal of the century (the Likud’s preferred arena,) with whatever is left over devoted to the absurdist (and thankfully concluded) Naama Issachar saga. All of these issues present the campaign as being solely between Likud and Blue and White, and Labor-Gesher-Meretz has struggled to make itself heard. The party desperately needs to turn voters’ attention to an issue which would play to their advantage, and with less than a month to go before the elections, they need to do so fast.

Unfortunately, Labor-Gesher-Meretz seems to have adopted Meretz’s traditional (and of course, mostly failed) strategy of relying on gimmicky campaign slogans rather than focusing on issues which impact people’s lives. This time around, the united Labor-Gesher-Meretz has launched a campaign based around the slogan “Go with your truth,” a play on the letters on the party’s ballot slip, which spell out the Hebrew word for truth. Labor-Gesher’s economic plan from the September elections which, though it did not result in particularly impressive electoral results, did at least succeed in driving the public conversation for a time, seems to have been forgotten. Unless the number of people who find that “their truth” impels them to vote for Labor-Gesher-Meretz drastically increases in the next several weeks, the leaders of all three of the parties making up the united list may soon find themselves out of a job.

2.  Haaretz’s coverage of Labor-Gesher-Meretz continues to be relentlessly critical of the party, and especially of Amir Peretz and Orly Levy. Danny Bar-On, in article absurdly titled “Shooting and Crying,” recently criticized Orly Levy for agreeing to the joint run with Meretz but then attempting to distance herself from them on the campaign trail, calling the move “childish” instead of recognizing it for what it is – acquiescence to the merger with Meretz in the face of what can only be called a rebellion by the other Labor MKs while recognizing that her target constituency wants nothing to do with Meretz. Her balancing act – part of Labor-Gesher’s efforts to maintain the electoral foothold in the Israeli periphery which it gained in the September elections – seems unlikely to succeed. But to call it childish, or to compare it to the phenomenon of Israeli soldiers who find themselves “forced” to act violently to protect their country, and then feel (a possibly less than genuine) remorse about it, is to totally miss what Orly Levy is attempting to do.

Haaretz’s non-stop negative coverage of Labor continued with an article regarding the provision of the Trump Plan that calls for approximately 200,000 Israeli Arabs living in areas bordering the West Bank to be transferred to the new Palestinian state and lose their Israeli citizenship. The article strangely compares the proposal to former Meretz MK Esawi Freij being placed 11th on the new Labor-Gesher-Meretz list – as if forcibly stripping 200,000 Israeli Arabs of their citizenship is the equivalent of reducing one man’s chance of being elected to the Knesset. The article goes on to mention that Freij is disappointed that his “Jewish friends” have not voiced opposition to the plan, and while Freij does not explain exactly who these friends are, the fact that this statement comes directly after noting that Freij had been placed 11th on the Labor-Gesher-Meretz list, and that it is followed by a picture of him with Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, clearly implies that he is talking about the Jewish members of his party. For whatever reason, the article did not see fit to mention that both Amir Peretz (“there is nothing more dangerous than talk of the transfer of Arab Israeli citizens”) and Nitzan Horowitz (“revoking the citizenship of Israeli Arabs and land swaps will never happen, period”) have spoken out forcefully against the idea.

3. If, as seems likely, Amir Peretz is forced to resign due to Labor-Gesher-Meretz’s poor performance next month, Itzik Shmuli will most likely be the favorite to take his place. This would be quite simply, terrible for the Labor party and for the cause of social democracy in Israel. After serving himself as the central figure behind Labor-Gesher’s merger with Meretz – a move which, based on the recent polls, seems like a clear unforced error –  Shmuli immediately begin stressing the need for Labor to distinguish itself from its new parter. Explaining what he believes separates the two parties, Shmuli stated recently “I’m from the central stream in Labor that believes we should support diplomatic separation, but on the way there we must safeguard Israel’s security needs, including security control over the Jordan Valley, keeping settlement blocs and refraining from using the word occupation.”

While there is no question that the Israeli left has not been able to find a winning electoral formula for the past 20 years, reinforcing the notion that military control over the West Bank is necessary for Israel’s security and that the refusal of self-determination to its Palestinian residents is both moral (given Shmuli’s refusal to use the word “occupation”) and military necessary (given his support for maintaining “security control” over the Jordan Valley) is profoundly unhelpful. By echoing the right’s messaging, Shmuli is only working to harm Labor’s efforts to distinguish itself from Blue and White in the short term, and strengthening the hegemony of the right in the long term. Were he to replace Peretz as Labor leader, as he surely hopes to do, it would be a disaster for the party.



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