Meretz minister calls for Labor merger: ‘We need a left that is not fighting for its life’

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej said on Saturday that his party should merge with Labor to ensure the survival of the political left.

Frej announced earlier this month that he would not run in the next election, ending a nearly decade-long run with the leftist Meretz party.

Speaking at a cultural event in the northern city of Baqa al-Gharbiya, Frej said the two parties should merge.

“We need to unite Labor with Meretz. We need a left that doesn’t fight for its life, that stops living in the past,” Frej said.

“There is no holiness in letters [denoting the names of the separate parties on voting slips]. Those who sanctify these letters will die with them,” he said.

Frej supports the leadership bid of former Meretz President Zehava Galon, who has announced her return to political life and her candidacy for the Meretz primaries ahead of the Nov. 1 election.

Meretz’s Zehava Galon (right) and Esawi Frej (left) at the Knesset on June 17, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Galon pointed to recent polls indicating that Meretz may not be able to pass the minimum threshold required in elections to enter the Knesset.

A recent Channel 13 poll showed that, led by Galon, Meretz would win five seats, up from four if MP Yair Golan, his only challenger, wins the party’s primaries. Israeli television polls are particularly unreliable, but nonetheless, often guide politicians’ decision-making.

Meretz currently has six seats.

Galon discussed a possible merger with the Labor Party, led by Merav Michaeli, in an interview on Wednesday.

Galon said she had a lot of respect for Michaeli and would do everything in her power to push for a merger with her party if elected Meretz president.

In an earlier interview, Galon said a merger with Labor would “maximize” the power of both parties.

Michaeli – who on Monday became the first Labor chairwoman to retain her seat in back-to-back contests – has repeatedly dismissed the possibility, insisting she has no plans to stand again on a joint list with the left party, as they did two years ago.

Michaeli said she was trying to reposition Labor as a strong “centre-left” party, which she does not see as compatible with Meretz’s values.

Zehava Galon, then leader of Meretz, left, addresses thousands of Israeli left-wing activists at a rally in Tel Aviv on May 27, 2017; Labor leader Merav Michaeli attends a conference in Rishon Lezion on July 19, 2022. (Gili Yaari/Flash90); (Flash90)

Galon said on Wednesday: “I hear what [Michaeli’s] say and understand where it comes from.

“In different circumstances, I might have said the same things. But I think right now we don’t have the privilege of saying we’re separatists,” she said.

“Currently, we are faced with the rise of [a Netanyahu-led bloc]. If that happens, God forbid, this bloc has already signaled its intention to destroy the rule of law, impose Jewish superiority, undermine Israeli democracy and hurt Arabs,” Galon said.

“Ben Gvir, Smotrich, Netanyahu – it scares me very much, and so I think my appeal to Merav, once elected [party chair]will be to say yes to any opportunity, to anyone who can be a partner in a broader social-democratic Jewish-Arab New Left that envisions an equal and democratic country,” Galon said.

Tobias Segal and Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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