Israel Elections: The Left Threw Away Its Votes, Now the Knives Are Out

Labor chief Merav Michaeli, who refused a technical merger with Meretz that would have changed the election results, is facing calls to resign following her party's dismal showing

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Merav Michaeli at a Labor caucus meeting in May.
Merav Michaeli at a Labor caucus meeting in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israeli leftists have a long tradition of following up disappointing election results with harsh criticism of their party leaders and calls for their immediate replacement. The tradition is so entrenched, particularly in the Labor Party, that it has a nickname: “taking out the knives.”

But after Tuesday’s vote, the knifing seemed more like a circular firing squad.

The news was pretty devastating: The Labor Party had dropped from seven seats to four, and Meretz had fallen below the electoral threshold and wouldn't have any lawmakers in the Knesset. Meretz leader Zehava Galon, who had returned from retirement to try to save her party, took the first shots.

Meretz chief Zehava Galon at the Haaretz Democracy Conference last month.Credit: Moti Milrod

In a video statement, she aimed in two directions for what she called a nightmare. She blamed Labor chief Merav Michaeli, who refused Galon's many pleas to have Labor and Meretz run on a joint ticket. That way, both parties would have topped the 3.25-percent threshold.

The results were “a disaster for Meretz, for the country, and yes, also for me personally,” Galon declared.

But the Meretz leader saved her most bitter words for the head of the center-left bloc, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who urged voters on the left to make his centrist party large enough to have a chance to forge a governing coalition. That approach could only stymie the two smaller parties to his left.

“I warned Lapid and his people several times that they were playing with fire and if they weren’t more careful, not only Meretz but our entire camp was going to pay the price,” Galon said. “Sadly, our voters chose to buy into the 'big party' campaign and preferred to strengthen Yair Lapid against Bibi.”

This “big party” campaign came after Lapid refused to take another step that could have saved Meretz. In the last days of the Knesset session, when an election was clearly on the horizon, he rejected legislation that would have lowered the electoral threshold.

A politician on the left who pushed for such a move told Haaretz's Yossi Verter that Lapid was “thinking only about his party and not about the general interest. Either way, he is the one responsible.”

Galon, however, didn't hesitate to take some of the blame; she said that “the responsibility is of course also on me.” Michaeli shunned this approach, hence the circular firing squad and the calls that she should go.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaking on election night.Credit: Moti Milrod

At a press conference Thursday, Michaeli charged that “Yesh Atid worked against Meretz and against Labor during the entire campaign.” She said he aimed to “erase” both Labor and Meretz. The election results, she added, were the result of Lapid’s “poor management” of the center-left's campaign.

Doubling down on her rejection of Galon’s appeals to link up, Michaeli said that there had been “no political justification for a merger.”

Michaeli’s statement only stoked the anger further, both inside and outside her party. In television and radio interviews, Meretz's Esawi Freige, the regional cooperation minister, slammed what he called Michaeli’s “delusions of grandeur,” outsized ego and “dream” that she was a reincarnation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.

While her fellow party members were understandably hesitant to go public with their criticism, many shared their wrath anonymously and called for her replacement. The Ynet website quoted a senior Laborite who lambasted Michaeli as “a massive failure who is disconnected from reality.”

The rest of the media joined in. Haaretz’s editorial Thursday said the Labor chief “must vacate her position to make way for a new leader.”

On social media, the angry leftists were more blunt; one wag didn't suffice with calling on Michaeli to step down or leave politics. She should “pack her bags and leave the country.”

Lapid, for his part, failed to join in the blame game. His only public comment since Tuesday has been his concession phone call to Netanyahu.

But other senior Yesh Atid politicians made their feelings clear after Michaeli’s press conference, presumably reflecting the views of their leader.

Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai tweeted: “Michaeli, instead of joining the struggle against this dangerous government, you're attacking the allies who extended you a hand – which you refused. Take responsibility for your failure.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll echoed this sentiment, tweeting that “the coalition of change has paid the price for Merav Michaeli’s arrogance. The responsibility to bring voters to support the Labor Party was hers and hers alone. It turns out that it's easier for her to talk about leadership than actually demonstrate it.”

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