Oron runs for an old-school Meretz

"We won't change because of what's in fashion," says front-runner to succeed Beilin.

haim oron 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haim oron 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In the same press conference in which outgoing Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin endorsed MK Haim Oron's candidacy to succeed him, he also spoke about what he considered Oron's greatest weakness. Beilin said that while Oron was respected by politicians from across the political spectrum and Meretz's 15,000 members, he is not well known among the general public. Beilin said the party had to start working soon on the task of marketing Oron. The tall, lanky Oron has been known since his teen years in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement by the nickname "Jumas," which is Arabic for "sycamore tree." Born in 1940 in Ramat Gan, he moved to the Negev at the age of 18 to form Kibbutz Lahav, where he still lives. Kibbutz Lahav is Israel's largest breeder of pigs. Oron became the youngest-ever secretary of the National Kibbutz movement at age 28 and gradually rose through the ranks until he was first elected to the Knesset in 1988 and served as agriculture minister in Ehud Barak's government in 1999. Among the founders of Peace Now and the drafters of the Geneva Initiative, Oron is now known as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's point-man when he relays secret messages to Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five sentences in prison and who Oron visits frequently. Oron currently heads the Knesset Ethics Committee. Asked how he would change Meretz's direction under his leadership, Oron said he would not change the party at all. He said the key to Meretz's success was to properly present its policies, which, he said, have grown in support in recent years. "We won't change because of what's in fashion," Oron said. "[Former Meretz leader] Yossi Sarid demanded the Environment portfolio before Al Gore made the issue cool. We were socioeconomic before it became politically advantageous to be. We pursued peace long before Ehud Olmert. And we tried to separate religion from state before Tommy Lapid decided to ignite a struggle against the haredim." Oron said he hoped he could return to the cabinet but that Meretz would set real conditions for joining the government and hold to them. He criticized Labor for breaking its promise to not sit in a government with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. Asked if an Oron-led Meretz would be more to the left than under Beilin, Oron responded, "What do you mean more left? Should we divide Jerusalem in four and not two?"