Can Israel’s new left-wing alliance shift the political landscape?
By Dov Lipman
(JNS) With the deadline to file party lists ahead of the September election fast approaching, a major shake-up within Israel’s left could bolster its camp after weak results in the April election.
On Thursday, the newly formed “Democratic Camp” party introduced themselves to Israelis, promising to set the country “back on the correct path.” The party, which is comprised of three different groups—Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and individual members of the Labor Party, most notably Knesset member Stav Shaffir—have joined in a left-wing alliance to counter Benjamin Netanyahu, and what they say is a history of “racism” and “corruption.”
“We are embarking on a path that in a month-and-a-half will lead to replacing the current leadership and bringing about social change,” said Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Meretz, who will head the new alliance.
Shaffir told JNS that she was “not prepared to hand the country over to Netanyahu on a silver platter,” emphasizing that “we could not take the risk of parties in our camp falling below the Knesset threshold.”
While she said it was difficult to leave the Labor Party, which has been her political home since joining the Knesset in 2013, Shaffir also noted that she had to “put state before party.”
The joint list gives Meretz four out of the top six spots, with Horwitz leading the slate. Shaffir will get the No. 2 slot, and Barak, surprisingly, has moved himself down to the 10th spot. He yielded his higher position to Yair Golan, former deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who will fill the third slot.
Working towards peace and a constitution
The new list announced that it placed working towards peace with the Palestinians and establishing final borders for Israel as its No. 1 mission and included writing a constitution for Israel as one of its primary goals. They also declared that under no circumstances would they join a right-wing government, and that Horvitz, Shaffir and Barak would make all decisions jointly. Sources tell JNS that if the list does not enter into a government, Barak will not serve as a Knesset member.
Labor leaders have been attacking Shaffir since the announcement was made. Former Labor MK Merav Michaeli said “Shaffir lost in the race for Labor Party chairman, so she decided to join another party.” Labor secretary Eran Hermoni went as far as demanding that Shaffir immediately resign her seat in the Knesset, which she earned as a member of the Labor Party.
The official Labor Party response sought to make a clear distinction between itself and the new party.
“We are happy that Ehud Barak has chosen to join the Meretz Party. This will prevent the loss of votes through his list, which wasn’t going to cross the election threshold. The division is now clear: The Labor Party presents an ideological, social and electoral alternative to the right bloc, which will enable us to break through and bring new voters, and replace the rule of Netanyahu.”
Officials from the Democratic Camp replied that the decision by new Labor chair Amir Peretz to join Gesher, which comes from the right, instead of joining the left-wing merger will destroy the Labor Party.
Despite such rhetoric, Peretz is reportedly under significant pressure to merge Labor with this new list. Popular Labor MK Itzik Shmuli has been working hard to make this happen, declaring that he has “not given up on convincing Peretz to change course and join the merger.”
Shmuli even hinted to the strong possibility of him leaving Labor if they don’t merge with the Democratic Camp, saying that in such a scenario, “I would have to rethink my political path.”
At the same time come reports that Labor officials are turning to ex-chair Avi Gabbay to oust Peretz as leader, according to Ynet News.
Netanyahu doesn’t seem concerned
Still, the biggest surprise about this merger is the back-seat Barak is taking. Weeks ago, when he announced the establishment of his Israel Democratic Party, he seemed to be laying the groundwork for his return as leader of the left. But his party’s poor showing in the polls—not even crossing the 3.25 percent threshold to enter the Knesset—and very negative fallout from the revelation of his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have made this an impossibility.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s Likud Party doesn’t appear concerned about the new merger or its having any potential to impact the election results.
Likud Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told JNS that “we are not going to get involved with how the left decides to divide up their votes.”
It’s important to note that other mergers in both camps have not led to any shifts in the overall political map, and that is most likely the fate of the creation of the Democratic Camp as well.
According to the polls, a stalemate still remains, with no leader having a clear path to forming a government.