After announcing her candidacy for the Meretz leadership on July 19, Zehava Galon and Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan expressed differing views on the party’s attitude towards Zionism.
The debate began following an interview on July 21 on KAN.
“In 1992, when Meretz was formed as a union between three different parties [Mapam, Ratz and Shinui, Meretz member] Yossi Sarid defined Israel in the party constitution as ‘the State of the Jewish people and all of its citizens,’ and therefore Meretz is an Israeli party that has Jewish Zionist members and non-Zionist members who are Arabs,” Galon said.
“We never defined ourselves as a Zionist party, and we never defined ourselves a non-Zionist party,” she said. “We have Zionists, I am a Zionist, but we also have Arabs, and I will not force them to define themselves as Zionists. Therefore, we are an Israeli party, and we see ourselves as partners with anyone who believes that Israel should be a democratic state,” she said.
After receiving backlash from right-wing politicians and media, Galon responded on Twitter.
"We never defined ourselves as a Zionist party, and we never defined ourselves a non-Zionist party. We have Zionists, I am a Zionist, but we also have Arabs, and I will not force them to define themselves as Zionists."Zehava Galon
“I see that the Right has started attacking me,” she wrote. “Meretz is a party without loyalty tests. It is an open house to Zionists like me, and Israeli Arabs like [Regional Cooperation Minister] Esawi Frej and [MK] Ali Salalha. Just like in the Change Government.”
“It has no room for tactics of agitation and incitement from the Netanyahu playbook,” she wrote.
But Galon was not just attacked by the Right. Golan criticized her position on Facebook.
"If we restrain ourselves to a self-definition that most Israeli citizens do not accept, we are setting ourselves up for failure and condemning Meretz to be a niche party forever."Yair Golan
“I was surprised to discover that Zehava Galon is uncomfortable with Meretz’s Zionism, or her (mistaken, in my opinion) view that ‘Zionism’ is a problematic concept in the eyes of Israel’s Arab citizens. I think exactly the opposite. Zionism for me is an identity; Zionism for me is the essence of the country’s existence; Zionism, in its original sense – not the one that was distorted by extreme nationalists, is Zionism that calls for partnership, extends a hand for peace, and honors human beings whomever they may be,” he wrote.
“Meretz needs to grow and be the base of a large, growing, renewing, influencing and deciding Zionist Left. If we restrain ourselves to a self-definition that most Israeli citizens do not accept, we are setting ourselves up for failure and condemning Meretz to be a niche party forever. We do not have this privilege. What was wise to do as the left flank of a governing party is no longer appropriate in the current Israeli reality. We have a new historic role – to be the base of a large Left returning to govern.
“Zionism is the Jewish people’s modern national movement and we cannot give up on it, and do not need to. For over a year I have been spearheading economic development in the Arab sector. I held dozens of meetings with Arab public figures, industrialists and social activists, and not once did I find that the concept ‘Zionism’ disturbs them. The Arab citizen recognizes the fact that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, understands the importance of the Zionist movement, and simply wants one thing – equality,” Golan wrote.
“From a place of a clear Zionist identity, and from a place of a clear Arab identity, a healthy partnership can be built between Jews and Arabs, while neutralizing the extreme nationalists on both sides.
A Meretz-Labor merger
“Zionism is not the problem – Zionism is the solution,” he concluded.
Both Golan and Galon have called for a merger between Meretz and Labor, but Labor chair Merav Michaeli and the party’s minister and MKs have consistently ruled out such a merger. Recent polls have shown that if Galon takes over Meretz, it will gain a seat on behalf of Labor, and rise safely over the electoral threshold. However, if Golan wins Meretz may remain close to the threshold and may need to decide whether by remaining in the race it risks wasting votes for the Left camp.