Yair Golan, former IDF general, says he will run for Meretz chairmanship

"I will run in order to build a proud, strong, Zionist Left, that fights for Israel's character and future," Golan said.

Yair Golan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yair Golan
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan announced on Wednesday that he will run to lead Meretz in the upcoming election.

"I will run in order to build a proud, strong, Zionist Left, that fights for Israel's character and future," Golan said in a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning.

"I will run because I believe that the Left's values should lead the state of Israel. Facing nationalism, messianism, violence and corruption, there needs to stand an opposite force that operates with the same determination and power," Golan said.

"This is an election that will decide between the paths of Ben Gurion and Ben-Gvir."

Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan

Between Ben Gurion and Ben-Gvir

Golan stressed that there were forces on the Right in Israel that were extremist, violent, and gaining strength.

"This is not a regular election, but an election that will determine if Israel will continue to be a Jewish and democratic state. This is an election that will decide between the paths of Ben Gurion and Ben Gvir. Between progress and darkness, growth and destruction. Between a government that acts on behalf of all Israel's citizens or fights most of its citizens. Between a government that respects the state and a government that destroys the state's institutions," Golan said.

 Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan at the Knesset plenum (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan at the Knesset plenum (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Golan said that he thinks he will win, hinting at his past military experience.

"I think that I bring to Meretz leadership and experience, and the ability to cope with difficult and complex situations. I believe in my strength, I believe in my abilities, and I believe in my ability to convince most Meretz voters to vote for me," Golan said.

Golan called for the establishment of a "large, broad Zionist Left camp," saying that this was his belief from the start.

"Meretz has and always will have a hand stretched forwards, but it is not clear if that hand will find its sister," Golan said, hinting at Labor head Merav Michaeli's plan for her party to run alone.

Asked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's ongoing control of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, Golan argued that as a former general and someone who saw the reality on the ground, he was convinced that the two-state solution was the only way forward.

"I dealt with the occupation, not in theory," Golan said. "I am one of those people who can locate on a map every Palestinian village in Judea and Samaria and every illegal outpost. I know this, I know the price we pay, I understand what it does to the youth, I understand, even from a professional standpoint, the burden of controlling a hostile civilian population over time," he said.

"From this, I arrived at the clear, unequivocal conclusion: We must separate from the Palestinians," Golan said.

"There is no topic that poisons Israeli society, that damages it morally, and materially, more than the unnecessary control over millions of Palestinians. We always talk about the 'territories,' but this is a distorted concept. We need to talk about the hostile population that we have control over – [who are] poor and hateful," Golan said.

"Are these the people we want amongst us? This is complete lunacy. From a national perspective, those who call themselves the 'national camp' are often actually the anti-national camp. Those who believe in separation [from the Palestinians] – understand that they are the true national camp," Golan said.

The future of Meretz

Golan's announcement came after current Meretz leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz was criticized in recent weeks for bringing MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi into the party. Rinawie Zoabi was Horowitz's personal choice and her refusal to support extending West Bank emergency regulations or to resign contributed to the government's fall.

In addition, nearly every poll conducted since the election was announced on June 20 showed Meretz hovering at or under the electoral threshold.

"Nitzan led Meretz in complicated times, through three election cycles, and was an excellent minister," Golan said about Horowitz. "I think that from here we need to move on and I believe that I can lead the way forwards on the path to enlarge Meretz, strengthen it and turn it into a dominant party in Israeli politics," he said.

Horowitz later commended Golan on his choice to run but emphasized that he was not planning on stepping down.

"Meretz is a democratic party, one of the few in the [political] arena, and I am proud of this. Yair is a worthy person and a friend," Horowitz wrote on Twitter.

"Meretz brough great achievements in the government and changed reality more than any other party. Not only in replacing the government but in health, environment, and women and LGBT rights. This is our calling and we will continue to strengthen Meretz and the Left," the health minister wrote.

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej retired from Meretz on Tuesday afternoon and expressed his lack of confidence in Horowitz's leadership. But in an interview on Wednesday morning, he also opposed Golan.

"Yair Golan is a good and diligent lad, but he lacks the DNA of Meretz. He has made comments that do not represent the party line," Frej said on KAN radio.

Frej instead called upon former Meretz leader Zehava Galon to return to the party's helm, arguing that she was the only one who could unite the party.

A possible merger with Labor remains perhaps Meretz's most important decision during the election campaign. But the party would only be willing to merge with Labor if the merger isn’t just technical but actually includes forming a new party and formulating a new, joint platform, a source in Meretz said. The attempts in previous elections to create unnatural mergers, for example with MK Orly Levy-Abecassis' Gesher party during the March 2020 elections, were destined for failure, the source said.

The source was confident that Meretz would pass the electoral threshold, arguing that the challenge to Horowitz as party leader and the primary election to the party list will contribute to the party's popularity. Left-wing voters are not easy customers and are critical by nature, but Meretz will build on its achievements during its year in the government to win back votes, the source said.

The party will also stress that other than the Arab parties it is the only one not to have sat in a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. This proves that the party has a solid backbone and ideology and can be counted on in the next Knesset to follow in the same direction, the source said.

Golan retired from the IDF as a major general in 2018 after serving as Deputy Chief of Staff under Gadi Eisenkot, who himself is considering joining the political arena. Golan previously served as the commander of the IDF's Home Front Command and Northern Command

Golan has been known to make controversial comments in the past. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, Golan made a controversial speech allegedly drawing parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, saying: “If there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes that developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here [in Israel] among us in the year 2016.”

In an interview with Radio 101.5 FM in 2019, Golan said that “Nazis came to power democratically, so we have to be careful inside, be careful, because extremists with a messianic view will not take advantage of Israeli democracy to create another governing reality here."

Tzvi Joffre and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.