Meretz will elect a new leader from a new generation in its March 22 leadership primary, after both incumbent Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On and veteran faction chairman Ilan Gilon announced that they were dropping out of the race.
Gal-On admitted that she exited the contest because she realized that she was not going to win.
“I presented my candidacy again in an attempt to bring a political boom to the Left and connect people from Labor and the Joint List to Meretz, and people from civil society organizations outside of the political system who share Meretz’s views,” Gal-On said. “But from conversations with party members throughout the country in recent weeks, I understood they want new leadership.”
Gal-On resigned from the Knesset in October to focus on the leadership race and overhauling the party’s primary system to open it to all members, not just party institutions. In the ensuing months, Meretz’s membership went up 70%, to 31,000.
The departing Meretz leader, who first entered the Knesset in 1999 and was elected chairwoman in 2013, said she did not regret the steps she took, even though they ended up harming her politically. Under the previous system in which Meretz’s governing council chose the leader, she was heavily favored to win reelection.
Gilon said he was dropping out for health reasons. He wrote on his Facebook page that he underwent a medical procedure that would make it hard for him to be able to campaign, and said on Kan Reshet Bet radio that he recently spent a week in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Unlike Gal-On, Gilon will remain in the Knesset and continue chairing the Meretz faction. He said he would convene his camp in the party soon in order to decide which candidate to back.
“Our mission to create a different Left and a different Israel has not changed,” Gilon wrote.
Seven candidates remain in the race to chair the party, which has only five MKs. The candidates are MK Tamar Zandberg, former Peace Now secretary-general Avi Buskila and party activists Avi Dabush, Imri Kalman, David Kashana, David Naveh and Ofir Paz De Portuguese.
Zandberg called Gal-On “a courageous leader who wrote a beautiful chapter in the history of Meretz. She wrote that Gilon was “the beating heart of the Israeli Left, and expressed hope that he will make a full recovery and cooperate with her in leading Meretz.
Buskila responded that after the departures of Gal-On and Gilon, “Meretz members now must choose between more of the same and a revolution,” and that if it picked Zandberg the party would continue having trouble crossing the 3.25% electoral threshold.
Dabush said he was glad he got to work with Gal-On and Gilon, and expressed hope he would continue working with them in the future.