Israel’s Labor and Meretz parties merge into new left-wing alliance called the Democrats
Left wing Israeli leader Yair Golan alongside protesters outside the home of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, December 8, 2024. Credit: Luke Tress

By Ben Sales
July 1, 2024

(JTA) — Israel’s Labor and Meretz parties announced on Sunday that they would unite ahead of the next election in a bid to revive the country’s left and maximize its share of parliament.

The new party, called the Democrats, is the latest attempt to stem the more than 20-year decline of the Israeli left. Labor, which governed Israel for its first three decades, is now the smallest party in Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Meretz, to Labor’s left, did not receive enough votes in the most recent election to enter Knesset at all — effectively wasting the votes it got.

The merger hopes to avoid that result in the future and win the left a larger bloc of seats. The new party will be led by Yair Golan, a former Israeli general and Meretz lawmaker who gained acclaim for rescuing several people during Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza. He has become an outspoken critic of the right-wing government’s management of the war.

“The union of Labor and Meretz is a necessary step on the road to building a broad home for the liberal, democratic community in Israel, and a necessary condition for replacing the government,” Golan posted on X.

But the war poses a challenge for the new party, whose members have for decades been identified with dovish policies and support for a Palestinian state, an idea that has increasingly fallen out of favor with Israeli voters after decades of failed negotiations and conflict. Surveys show that Oct. 7 and the war have pushed Israeli society further to the right; a survey taken earlier this year found that just 19% of Israeli Jews feel a Palestinian state can coexist in peace with Israel.

Polls have shown that a majority of Israelis support early elections, but by law the government is not required to call a vote until 2026.

Labor and Meretz were both members of the governing coalition that briefly unseated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party from mid-2021 to 2022; they previously ran together on a joint slate once, in 2020. The current Knesset is the first in some 30 years not to include Meretz.

One longtime Middle East analyst noted the significance of the party’s name, particularly in a year when Israel has been at the center of American political discourse. Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote on X that the party’s stances are “likely reflecting where most US Democrats are; and with Likud and right wing holding a Vulcan mind meld with the GOP, Israeli and US politics merge with two very different images of Israel.”

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