Nitzan Horowitz was elected leader of the Meretz Party Thursday night, defeating incumbent MK Tamar Zandberg and becoming Israel’s first gay party leader.
The election was decided by the 1,000 members of Meretz’s party convention, with Horowitz taking 54 percent of the vote and Zandberg 46 percent, from a turnout of 81 percent.
The victorious candidate made an impassioned speech calling on left-wing voters who may have voted for the Blue and White party tactically in the last election to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “return home” to Meretz and vote with their heart.
And he declared that Meretz was ready for “dialogue and cooperation” with the parties of the Left, hinting heavily at his desire to unite Meretz on a joint list with another left-wing party to maximise its electoral potential and, no less, to guarantee the party passes the electoral threshold, given its brush with disaster in the last elections.
Horowitz also lambasted the Blue and White party as a “soap bubble party” and an “election eve trick” and said that only Meretz was truly devoted to left-wing values.
“Meretz will fight for freedom for everyone, freedom from discrimination and racism, freedom from coercion and and disparagement, freedom from exploitation and poverty, and freedom from occupation,” Horowitz declared.
“We say these things against a regime that does the exact opposite, racism, corruption, incitement, religiousification, diplomatic freeze. And above everything a prime minister who runs the state from a position of being a criminal suspect and in order to escape from jail does deals of political bribery and abandons our future.”
Horowitz also addressed the fact that he has become Israel’s first gay party leader, saying that it was “very emotional” for him but that he expected in coming years it to become something “not out of the ordinary.
ברכות @NitzanHorowitz ידידי! אתה אדם ראוי ביותר, ואני בטוחה שתהיה יו״ר מוצלח ואהוד. שיתוף פעולה בין העבודה ומרצ נראה כעת ראלי מבעבר. בהצלחה!— שלי יחימוביץ (@Syechimovich) June 27, 2019
“Meretz is the home of the gay community, it has proved this over decades, and it will increase its efforts. In Meretz LGBTs are not a fig leaf, not some nice decoration without any substance or content. Meretz will fight for our freedom, the freedom of all men and women of the gay community. to be free, equal people with equal rights in this land.”
Much of the debate in the leadership race focused on the two divergent directions the two candidates could take Meretz in.
Zandberg’s heavy focus was on increasing and emphasizing Meretz commitment to Jewish-Arab cooperation, and making this the party’s banner so as to increase its appeal to the Arab electorate.
Horowitz on the other hand has shown greater inclination to unite with other left-wing parties, something that could lead to division within Meretz.
MK Esawi Frej said on Wednesday that Horowitz was refusing to rule out a unity deal with Ehud Barak’s new party, something he said would be a “red flag” for Arab voters, and warned that “Victory for Horowitz will put a question mark over the future of the party.”
MK Ilan Gilon, who backed Horowitz, said however that it was very desirable that Meretz find another partner on the Left, and that the new chairman would take the party forward in its mission to share the wealth, of the country, share the land and separate religion and state.
Tensions have frayed during the leadership contest within the small faction, with Frej and former MK Mossy Raz backing Zandberg, and MK Michal Rozin and Gilon backing Horowitz in a campaign that some at the convention said became somewhat sharper than in the past.
Zandberg is nevertheless running in the upcoming elections for Meretz’s electoral list, and it is expected that there will be little change on the list from the last elections.
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovitch congratulated Horowitz following his victory, calling him “a most worthy man” and said that “a collaboration between Labor and Meretz seems more realistic than before.”
And Labor MK and candidate for the party’s leadership Stav Shaffir also welcomed Horowitz’s election, saying that she believed he would “contribute to the success of the democratic camp of Israel in our joint struggle for social justice, peace, and equality.