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Israel’s left-wing party Meretz elects new leader

Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Israel’s left-wing parties Meretz
Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Israel’s left-wing party Meretz [Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/Wikipedia]

One of Israel’s left-wing parties Meretz has elected a new leader ahead of the country’s upcoming general election on 17 September.

Nitzan Horowitz – a journalist with Israeli daily Haaretz and two-time Knesset Member (MK) – was elected as party chair in Meretz’s primaries yesterday. His victory sees him oust previous chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, who led the party in Israel’s last election on 9 April.

Giving a victory speech in Tel Aviv, Horowitz said that “Meretz has a clear, straight path, of love for humans, and belief in equality and freedom”. “This is the path I have walked my whole life and continue to walk,” he explained, adding that “this way of life is under attack and Meretz will fight for freedom for all, from darkness, racism and coercion”.

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Commentators expect Horowitz’s victory over Zandberg to impact Meretz’s potential alliances ahead of the September election; whereas Zandberg was said to be weighing an alliance with the newly-reformed Joint List, Horowitz is thought to prefer an alliance with other left-wing Jewish-Israeli parties, such as the Israeli Labor Party or the as-yet-unnamed party announced this week by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Horowitz, however, stressed that Meretz “is prepared for talks and cooperation based on our values,” which includes “alliances with new groups and the heads of Arab and Druze society”.

“Our way and values ​​are the reason for our existence as a party. We have a historic responsibility to create a strong left. If need be, we will be a combative opposition that they [a right-wing government] will not forget,” he added.

READ: Israel’s newly-reformed Joint List MKs: ‘We’re going to cause a revolution’

Horowitz also took aim at the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, dismissing the centrist party as little more than a “soap bubble”.

Despite becoming Israel’s second-biggest party following a strong performance in April’s election, Blue and White – particularly its leader Benny Gantz – has been most noticeable by its absence since fresh elections were called last month.

This has led to speculation of discord between Gantz and co-leader Yair Lapid, as well as accusations that the party is “sleeping” when it could – or should – be working to weaken increasingly-embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meretz could, however, find itself needing to collaborate with Blue and White if the centre-left camp has any hope of reaching the 61 Knesset seats needed to form a majority government and challenge Netanyahu’s hegemony.

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In the most recent polls, Blue and White was predicted to win 32 seats, once again the same number as Netanyahu’s Likud party. The Joint List was predicted to win 12 seats, Meretz six and Labor five, while Ehud Barak’s new party could win as many as six seats.

This would garner the 61 seats needed to form a centre-left government, while the right-wing bloc would only win 52 seats. This calculation leaves out former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party – which is predicted to improve on its April performance to win seven seats – after Lieberman claimed he would sit neither in a Netanyahu nor Gantz-led government.

Whether the Joint List will agree to join a Gantz-led government is also unclear, after the former army Chief of Staff claimed to be looking for only “Jewish and Zionist” coalition partners ahead of April’s election. Though Arab-Israeli parties have held working arrangements with governments in the past, none have ever officially joined a ruling coalition.

This apparent deadlock has sparked calls from Likud officials – rumoured to be at Netanyahu’s behest – to cancel the election. Though such a move has no constitutional precedent in Israel, Netanyahu’s increasingly-desperate attempts to hold on to power and avoid impending corruption charges could see him rip up the rule book once again.

Poll: Nearly half of Israelis support cancelling September elections

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