Zahava Gal-On, leader of Ashkenazi-dominated Meretz
The leftist party Meretz has doubled its seats in the new Israeli Knesset – to six. But while one will be occupied by an Arab, the rest will be reserved for Ashkenazim, explains Tsafi Saar in Haaretz. In case you’ re wondering why Mizrahim are missing from Meretz – the answer is simply that the far left has never shown much understanding of their abused human rights and painful history in the Arab world.
The Meretz representatives are all good people. Their heart is in the
right place. Good souls. Which brings us to their election campaign, an
effort rife with mistakes. It started with the patronizing slogan “Your
heart is on the left, neshama” – that final word, “my soul,” is a term of endearment characteristic of non-Ashkenazi speakers of Hebrew.
Then there was that video that mocked people taking part in the Revivo
Project, a revival of old songs from Middle Eastern Jewish traditions,
one of the best music projects in recent years. It sometimes seemed as
if the campaign were trying to persuade people not to vote for Meretz.
The thing is, the Meretz people really are good people. And smart –
they have an explanation for everything. When asked about their lack of
Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin), they noted that their three
top spots were filled by a woman, a disabled person and a gay man. About
the mocking video, they said it was made not by the party but by its
supporters. Even if in some cases such answers are acceptable, the
questions leave no room for doubt: The party has a problem. A big
In fact, Meretz is continuing the Israeli left’s long and inglorious
tradition of (in the best case) ignoring Mizrahim, including the Mizrahi
left. In the past this was clear racism. What is it today? Why the
insularity and foregoing of activities with people committed to similar
values? How can it be that a party that waves the banners of human
rights, equality and pluralism is sending to the Knesset only people
from a hegemonic class? How come its leaders don’t understand that this
produces a lack of trust, which the high-flown words, the willingness
and even the worthy actions won’t dispel?
If Meretz wants to establish a real and broad left, it has to start
now. Yesterday it should have begun a thorough inspection, not to say
revolution. First, its men and women must acknowledge the problem. There
is no escaping it, and no intellectual explanation will sweep it under
As every female politician in Meretz no doubt knows, men, no matter how
progressive and enlightened, cannot faithfully represent women’s
interests. In this way, Ashkenazim cannot represent Mizrahim, and the
same applies to Jews and Palestinians.
Throughout the country groups of activists are busy at work, and if
Meretz has the sense to realize that they are its only hope (not the
other way around) and to cooperate with them – not as a senior partner
and patron – hope could spring here. And it wouldn’t just be for the
party, but for all Israel.