Darkhorse candidate in Meretz race hopes for surprise win

Avi Dabush, whose parents were born in Libya and Syria, would bring a new identity to Meretz, which has never had a Sephardi leader.

Meretz Bus 521 (photo credit: Courtsey Meretz)
Meretz Bus 521
(photo credit: Courtsey Meretz)
When Avi Dabush was eighth on Meretz’s candidates list in the 2015 election, his mother went to the grave of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to apologize to him for not voting for Shas and for casting a ballot for her son’s party, which won five seats.
Now Dabush is running against incumbent Zehava Gal-On and MK Ilan Gilon in the March 22 Meretz leadership race that was initiated at Sunday’s party convention. If Dabush, 41, pulls off an upset win, not only will the Meretz leadership shift to a new generation, but Dabush’s mother will have to spend more time in the cemetery apologizing for her votes.
Dabush, whose parents were born in Libya and Syria, would bring a new identity to Meretz, which has never had a Sephardi leader. He was also raised right-wing and studied at the religious-Zionist Or Etzion and Machon Meir yeshivas before removing his kippa before his IDF service.
A resident of Sderot, he serves as the gabai (sexton) of the synagogue at Kibbutz Bror Hayil, where he lived until recently and founded a “Social Action Beit Midrash.” He is one of the leaders of the Peripheries Movement that has led marches to Jerusalem to raise awareness for the need for fairer distribution of state funds.
“I bring something new to Meretz,” Dabush said. “My dream is not to be an MK, but for there to be a real Left in Israel led by the peripheries. It’s a tragedy that the Left is led by the elites, and the peripheries are turned off by them.”
Dabush said he believes Meretz should be the leading force on the Left, not Labor. He said Labor leader Avi Gabbay was too centrist and did not care enough about ending poverty.
While others took credit for Sunday’s decision to open up the ranks of Meretz to a membership drive and the party’s first ever leadership primary, Dabush said he initiated the idea of holding an open primary in April 2016, which Gal-On later endorsed.
After running a school for autistic children at Kibbutz Revadim, Dabush led a successful campaign against a coal plant in Ashkelon and rose through the ranks of Shatil, the operating arm of the New Israel Fund, moving from community organizer to program director.
He is one of the founders of the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, which brings the voice of residents of the South calling for an agreement between Israel and Gaza. In 2009, he was active in the Green Movement that ran Rabbi Michael Melchior for Knesset. He joined Meretz in 2014 and has been very active in the party ever since.
On diplomatic issues, Dabush has distanced himself from Gal-On and Gilon, who both back a two-state solution as envisioned in the Oslo peace process. Dabush wants there to be two states but as part of a confederation like the European Union, an idea backed by leftists, settlers, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Jerusalem would be the confederation’s joint capital.
“I don’t want to expel people and separate from the Palestinians like [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid,” he said. “I want real peace with a window to the Middle East.”