Amir Peretz is right – there is no link between Labor and Meretz

In September, Stav Shafir and the “Green Party,” along with Ehud Barak and “Democratic Israel,” joined Meretz and created the “Democratic Union”.

Amir Peret and Stav Shaffir in better days  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Amir Peret and Stav Shaffir in better days
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In the last two weeks a new and oppositional narrative has been exposed: Meretz, terrified about its survival, is seeking to join up with the Labor Party, which has been rejecting it with the claim of ideological differences between the parties. And indeed, there are gaps between us: Meretz defines itself as a left-wing party – Labor does not. The Labor Party defines itself as a socially-oriented party – but the Meretz platform provides evidence that it is even more socially-oriented, and more socialist. Meretz fights against the occupation while from the Labor Party’s perspective the occupation does not exist. Meretz speaks about Jewish-Arab partnership and about civic equality, while for Labor this political objective is irrelevant.
Amir Peretz is right, there is no link between us. And perhaps instead of waiting for him to come to his senses and work for a link in the “bloc,” we should build the Israeli Left by way of expanding the Democratic Union.
In September, Stav Shafir and the “Green Party,” along with Ehud Barak and “Democratic Israel,” joined Meretz and created the “Democratic Union” which enlarged support in Jewish society by 60,000 votes, while in Arab society – on the background of the connection with Ehud Barak and rebuilding of the Joint List – a drop of about 25,000 votes was recorded. Now, with Barak on the outside, the Democratic Union should act to create new connections with the Arab society, with very large electoral significance.
And even before discussing the electorate, we need to speak about values: There is no party list in Israel expressing Jewish-Arab political partnership. The Joint List is an Arab-Palestinian list. Everything else on the party spectrum is Jewish lists with symbolic representation of Arab society. The central value of the Left is equality, and it is a must therefore to also guarantee equality for the Arab citizens of Israel.
It is not enough that Issawi Frej is in a realistic slot on the list. A new component must be added: representation of the mainstream in Arab society. The Democratic Union must be inclusive of a new group coming from among the leadership of Arab society, from among the current and past heads of local authorities, academics and leaders of civil society. They are the ones who express the will of the majority of Arab citizens of Israel, aspiring to political partnership and representation in the coalition and the government. The Joint List cannot provide a response for this aspiration. Only the Democratic Union can.
THE JOINT LIST is not the political home for the entire Arab society. The rate of votes for the list is still lower than the rate of Jewish voting by almost 20%. The Democratic Union can actualize the potential for the five Knesset seats from Arab society voters outside of the Joint List.
Meretz should grasp the stick on both ends: It should continue preserving the Jewish electorate who joined it together with Stav Shafir and Yair Golan, and in parallel it should bring in a new electorate from Arab society who will join when they have two realistic places on the ballot: Frej, and a senior representative from the leadership of Arab society.
In doing so, Amir Peretz’s hope will also materialize. No one will blame him as being the failure of the Left, he will continue to seek out voters from the Right, and the Jewish-Arab Left of Israel will be represented by the Democratic Union. Two weeks are left until election lists for the Knesset are submitted, and instead of waiting and praying that Amir Peretz comes to his senses, this is the step that is necessary. There is enough time. Most of all it brings great potential for change.
The question generally arises here: How can Arab Knesset members be partners in a coalition that approves budgets for settlements and acts militarily in the occupied territories and in Gaza?
Well, in Arab society people understand that change will only occur when they are part of the mechanisms of power and influence. This means that on the one hand they will have an impact on fundamental change of the topics that are important to them in the social, economic and political realms, and on the other hand this means being part of a coalition that makes decisions that sometimes contradict their views.
This has been already happening for decades with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties and even with the National-Religious parties in relation to secular and civil topics – influence on the one hand, reconciliation and pragmatism on the other. This means that Arab coalition members will be proud of a national budget in which there are historic corrections in relation to the discrimination they suffer from, and that the budget will also support topics that are important for Jewish society and the Zionist movement.
In relation to moves toward war, after all, it is not only Arab society that objects to them, but Meretz also. Meretz will enter the government in order to advance a political solution and to advance peace. And if Israel needs to defend itself – an Arab minister will also not resign for the sake of defending and preserving civilian life.
The writer is chair of the Meretz executive committee, and is CEO of Givat Haviva-The Center for a Shared Society.