MK Tamar Zandberg.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former Peace Now secretary-general Avi Buskila accused the Meretz leadership Sunday of ganging up on him in order to ensure MK Tamar Zandberg’s victory in Thursday’s party primary.
Buskila complained that the press has prematurely declared Zandberg the winner of the race, which will be the party’s first-ever primary.
“I still believe I will win,” Buskila said. “The press took the side that was most comfortable for them. All the MKs and party apparatus did, too. There is no doubt the establishment wants to keep what there was. My candidacy has challenged them, or they wouldn’t have united behind what they know.”
All of Meretz’s five current MKs have endorsed Zandberg, while former Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, who dropped out of the contest, decided to remain neutral.
“Politics is full of surprises,” Buskila said. “The commentators and the polls feed off each other. Pollsters haven’t been right in Israel or the US in a long time.”
Buskila, 42, was born to Moroccan immigrant parents in Mishmar Hayarden, a community in the Galilee that was founded by Herut, the fore-runner of Likud. He was raised in a religiously traditional, right-wing family and “grew into the values and ideology of Meretz.”
After 14 years in the IDF culminating with the rank of major, he was a businessman for ten years. Two years ago he became secretary-general of Peace Now, where he organized a rally of some 30,000 people in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in May.
If elected, Buskila would be the first gay head of an Israeli political party. He has led fights for gay rights in Israel and Russia as well as for IDF reservists in Israel. He has been with his partner for four and a half years.
“The significance of me leading Meretz is that human rights aren’t just written about, they are lived,” he said.
Buskila said he would like to work together with liberal American Jews to advance their shared values and fight religious extremism in Israel. He said he was raised traditional and is now completely secular.
Because he was raised in a challenging socioeconomic situation, Buskila said he believes he can relate to key sectors of society who have not voted for Meretz in the past.
“The outlook and the strategy of the party must change,” he said. “The party must decide to work for the population in the periphery. Meretz shouldn’t be afraid of change,” he said. “It’s for the good of all of us. The beauty of a party is it can renew itself, and that is what we should do. That’s a strength.”
After Gal-On, MK Ilan Gilon and periphery activist Avi Dabush dropped out of the race, the other two remaining candidates besides Buskila and Zandberg are activists Ophir Paz and David Kashani.
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