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Can Meretz Party change Israeli left?

With Labor head Avi Gabbay veering to the right, Meretz faces both handicaps and opportunities leading the center-left political bloc.

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay has made some controversial declarations recently, including that peace would not mean necessarily evacuating settlements. He has also come under harsh condemnation for his sycophantic campaign to secure the support of religious and right-wing Israelis. Secular Israelis, fearful of religious coercion and influence on the school system, were shocked by Gabbay’s crude attempt to enlist God in the public discourse on the future of the occupied territories, lands the right and the religious view as their biblical, God-given right. Members of Israel’s peace camp were outraged at the reservations voiced by the newly elected party leader about evacuating Israelis from West Bank settlements. Jewish Israelis who believe in coexistence with Arab-Israelis were furious at Gabbay’s rejection of a future partnership in government with the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties. Even Knesset members of the Zionist Camp including co-leader Tzipi Livni were riled by what seemed to be an attempt by a right-winger in Labor clothing to co-opt their center-left party.

On second, perhaps conspiratorial thought, Gabbay’s right-leaning pronouncements might be a brilliant political tactic. Let’s assume that his statements have alienated all those Zionist left-wing party members who never miss a peace demonstration and flock in droves to every rally commemorating slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Who will they vote for in the next elections? If Gabbay’s courting of the religious right drives them crazy, centrist Yair Lapid (leader of Yesh Atid) is unlikely to ease their qualms. For every skullcap that Gabbay pulls out of his pocket, as he did recently in a clear nod to the religious right, Lapid has a photo of himself wrapped in a prayer shawl.

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