Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On presenting the party's diplomatic platform.
(photo credit: MERETZ)
Tel Aviv’s Tzavta theater erupted in applause and cheers Tuesday night when exit polls showed Meretz surpassed the electoral threshold with five mandates.
“We did it against all odds!” elated Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On told the room.
The party’s fate hung in the balance on Election Day, as Gal-On appealed to both Meretz supporters and undecided voters with one salient message – a vote for Meretz will help usher in the end of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s era.
Gal-On congratulated Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog on his 27 mandates, but warned him that joining any government with Netanyahu would be a grave mistake.
“I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union,” she said. “I want to implore Herzog to not join a Bibi [Netanyahu] government. We will recommend Herzog to form a center-left government and it’s possible!”
“I’m telling Herzog, we’re giving you our mandates to form a government. And if you fail, God forbid, don’t go to Bibi,” she added.
Cautioning against a unity government, Gal-On also appealed to Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon to join a Herzog-led center-left government. “It’s possible to have a turnover. It’s time to protect our democracy,” she said.
Before exit poll results were announced, an undercurrent of cautious optimism permeated the crowd as they posed for selfies and happily accepted bright green Meretz stickers distributed by a freckled-face 10-year-old girl.
“We are very optimistic,” a Meretz staffer told The Jerusalem Post regarding the party’s future. “Meretz is an important party. I’m confident we will have a last-minute victory. Nobody wants to wake up to the possibility of a right-wing government tomorrow morning.”
Despite the optimism, there was some trepidation that Meretz could be shut out due to left-wing voters abandoning Meretz for the Zionist Union.
“The Israeli Left supports us,” said Uri, a long-time Meretz volunteer. “In their heart they want Meretz, but in the voting booth they make all these last-minute political calculations that may lead them to vote for Herzog.”
Earlier in the day, Gal-On took to social media and Rothschild Boulevard to drum up support for her base, imploring to voters that there was no room for “indecisiveness” at the polls.
“Meretz supporters: there is no room for games or spin, not today. You simply must vote Meretz. Every voice is influential today. There’s no room for indecisiveness – only a vote for Meretz will get us into the next Knesset and will ensure that four seats will not be lost... We are counting on you until the very last minute. Give us your voice, and together we will do this,” she said in a Facebook post.
“Today we have a real opportunity to ignite a significant turnover, to end the six bad years of right-wing government control, and to restore hope and sanity to the State of Israel,” she said after voting in Petah Tikva Tuesday morning.
Later in the day, Gal-On ripped Netanyahu for a Likud SMS sent to right-wing voters warning them of a strong Arab turnout.
Calling him a “sad little instigator,” she said, “Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his legitimacy to rule today. Worrisome racial incitement against Israeli Arabs is unacceptable from a politician on the margins of power, but coming from the prime minister who dares to call 20 percent of the population a threat that must be combated as they exercise their democratic right makes him unfit for his role, regardless of tonight’s results.”
During her speech Tuesday night, Gal-On took the time thank the thousands of volunteers who campaigned on her behalf.
“You are amazing and wonderful and we could not have done this without you. This was a long journey. Three months of going to schools and events in the rain and the heat and in every place we explained why we need a leftist party in the State of Israel,” she told the jubilant crowd.