Ayalon, Melchior aim to partner Greens

Melchior tells Post new political grouping will become "the buzz" of the election campaign.

melchior 224.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
melchior 224.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MKs Ami Ayalon and Rabbi Michael Melchior are holding talks with an array of environmental and educational organizations with which they hope to partner in an ambitious new political grouping to run in the coming Knesset elections. Melchior, a nine-year MK and the current chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the coalescing party did not yet have a name. He said that "Meimad" - the dovish religious party he heads, which has stressed that there is no halachic impediment to territorial compromise in the cause of peace - is "a good brand name," but that the new party would run under a different one if it were clear this would draw more votes. On Thursday in Jerusalem, Meimad's 120-strong leadership will be asked by party chairman Melchior to approve the move. Ayalon, who is also to address the gathering, will be the No. 1 on the new party's slate, Melchior will be No. 2, and attractive leaders with admirable track records are being recruited for other high positions, the rabbi said. The new alignment is being established following Labor's telling Melchior it would not allocate a high spot on its Knesset list to Meimad - Melchior was elected on the 10th slot in Labor's current Knesset list - and Ayalon's announcement that he was leaving the Labor Party. Melchior said he had never been "particularly enthusiastic" about the possibility of partnering with a new Meretz-led grouping and that contacts in that direction had led nowhere to date. While there were no gulfs between them on social issues, and differences only of nuance on political-diplomatic matters, there was no common ground regarding Meimad's emphasis on the Jewish identity of the state. Even though the resort to a new list comes "at the last minute," and even though possible alliances are still being negotiated, Melchior said he believed the new party could become "the buzz" of the election campaign and that "the sky's the limit" on how well it could do. "It's very rushed," he acknowledged. "We have to sell a brand suddenly and galvanize supporters." But he said there were thousands of volunteers ready to go into action, and he hoped the grouping would serve as "a home for those with Jewish values, working constructively for the future of Israel." He noted that the Gil Pensioners Party had come from nowhere to win seven seats in the 2006 elections, despite the fact that its leadership was not well-known and that it championed only the single issue, however valid, of pensioners' rights. The new grouping, by contrast, said Melchior, would be headed by proven leadership and would be committed to championing issues central to Israel's very existence, including the country's Jewish identity, the urgent need for substantive educational reform and environmental activism - areas in which he said he had focused his attentions in the Knesset. The presence of Ayalon at the top of the list, meanwhile, would give it credibility in areas of security and peacemaking, he said. Ayalon is a former navy chief and Shin Bet head and partnered with PLO official Sari Nusseibeh in the "People's Voice" initiative, encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to sign on to a petition for peace. Melchior said he did not blame Labor for ditching Meimad's safe slot, noting that he had been invited to compete like any other candidate for a place on the party list but was not emotionally cut out to do so. Labor, he said, was evidently pessimistic about its likely showing in February's elections and had to worry first about its own people. Nonetheless, he said, Labor had plainly never truly embraced Meimad's fundamental worldview - including its stance against Orthodox coercion, its efforts in favor of eased conversion and its commitment to educational reform and environmental priorities - and thus the partnership between the two parties had never been complete. Labor had also failed to redefine its place in the Center-Left and had gradually alienated many immigrants, traditional Jews, Israeli Arabs and others with whom it should naturally have been associated. Melchior criticized those who branded Ayalon, still a minister-without-portfolio, "opportunistic" for bolting Labor, noting that he would certainly have been elected to the top slot on the party slate after leader Ehud Barak in the upcoming primary and that he had taken a principled decision to leave. Melchior said he himself had been offered a variety of positions by other parties that would have safeguarded his Knesset seat. By contrast, he expressed his "surprise" at some of the new-old recruits to the Likud - people who, he said, had for years castigated Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu over his integrity and for destroying the education system and other misguided social policies, but who had now rejoined that party because it was flying so high in the polls. "I'm sure some of these people have much to contribute in leadership," he said, naming Bennie Begin and Dan Meridor, "but they also have to look at themselves in the mirror."