Now, more than ever - a strong Labor Party

Neither Meretz-Yahad nor Kadima will get my support.

Ever since I moved to Israel almost 35 years ago I have voted for Meretz, beginning in 1973, when Shulamit Aloni broke from the Labor Party to form the Citizens Rights Movement (Ratz). Even after its split from Sheli in 1977, I stuck with Shula's party-of-one. So it is with great sorrow that in the upcoming elections, I will abandon my natural political home. Former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan made a case in these pages for voting Meretz-Yahad ("Meretz-Yahad deserves your support," December 19), resting her argument on the ideological purity of her party's platform. And indeed, over the years Meretz has maintained a political consistency that is refreshing. Despite the changing winds of Israeli society the bulk of its views are universal and thus applicable today. What enlightened or progressive individual would argue against social justice, equality, human rights, separation of religion and state, honesty in government, economic inclusiveness and compromises for peace? SO WHY, after all these years, have I chosen not to vote for Meretz-Yahad? I am a firm believer that most people are influenced by personalities more than by ideologies. My becoming a rabbi was a direct result of my admiration for the rabbi at the synagogue where I grew up. My social activism was fashioned not only by the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, but by the example of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King Jr. and Aryeh Lova Eliav. This leads me to the titular leader of Meretz-Yahad - Yossi Beilin. Despite Dr. Beilin's considerable contributions to Israel, his humorless comportment does not inspire confidence that he will be able to translate his party's rich philosophical agenda into practical achievements. Since diplomacy is based as much on personal chemistry as it is on ideological self-interest, I would have hoped that a less uncompromising persona would head the Meretz-Yahad list. This is the main reason I cannot vote for Meretz-Yahad. As a religious Jew I ascribe to a theology of faith and follow up belief with action. What good are the lofty ideals of Meretz if they cannot be translated into accomplishments? Meretz's faction whip, MK Zahava Galon, recently petitioned the High Court to stop the sale of an insurance policy that guards its holder against financial penalty should he or she be found guilty of sexual harassment. This is a critical social issue. But what can undermine the virtue of this cause, and other causes championed by Galon and her Meretz colleagues is the shrillness with which they present them. As a result, Beilin, Galon, et al, like the far more grating personality of Shinui's leader, Tommy Lapid, have very few legislative initiatives or successes to show for themselves. GERSHON BASKIN, another leftist comrade-in-arms, explained in these pages why he will be voting for Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party instead of casting his usual vote for Meretz ("A peacenik's dilemma," December 6). I am unable to follow in Baskin's footsteps - not because of the present political turmoil in which Kadima finds itself as a result of Ariel Sharon's ill health, but rather because Kadima has no political platform or ideology. Its policies seem to be based on a single issue: that Ariel Sharon initiated and carried out the disengagement from Gaza. Kadima's social and economic policies are still Binyamin Netanyahu's. While the withdrawal from Gaza gained Sharon a measure of redemption in the eyes of many of us liberals, disengagement, despite the eulogistic praise being accorded Sharon, cannot in and of itself erase a personal biography that, with all its accomplishments, is littered with shameful chapters, from the debacle of the Lebanon War to the latest revelations that he may have let his sons take the fall for alleged campaign finance crimes. Therefore, unlike Baskin, in not voting for Meretz-Yahad I have no intention of completely abandoning that party's principles by voting for Kadima. Instead, in hoping to see Meretz-Yahad's causes implemented, I intend to cash Meretz in for Labor's Amir Peretz. It is a relatively safe bet that Kadima and Labor will be the major forces in any future coalition. It is also clear, particularly now, that Kadima's Israeli-Palestinian agenda may not call for a further disengagement from the West Bank. AND SO Israel's social agenda becomes my prime concern. A stronger Labor Party under Peretz's leadership might be able to turn back the economic policies of the present government that have humiliated, emotionally and physically, the weaker elements in Israeli society. The larger the Labor faction, the greater will its impact be. Additionally, if Kadima does intend to satisfy Meretz-Yahad's diplomatic agenda by withdrawing from more territories, it will need to do so with a coalition that is considered moderate - which would exclude a party headed by Beilin, who is perceived in the public eye as extreme. While the push to vote for Labor is admittedly greater than the pull to vote for it, at this juncture in Israel's political reality, a vote for Meretz-Yahad would be practically irresponsible and a vote for Kadima morally questionable.