Joint List, Meretz, Shas, Kahlon or the Green Party? A Leftern Guide to Voting in the Israeli Elections on March 17th

Hello.

Are you still trying to figure out who to vote for? Or just curious as to who you would vote for if you could vote? Or open to being swayed from what you’ve already decided? Cool. Here are my suggestions.

(1) Joint List. You should vote for the Joint List. If you believe, like I do, that this place is being torn apart by violence, war, unbridled nationalism, unchecked militarism, and that the change that is needed has to be more than just tweaks to the system, and that this change should be both sweeping and nonviolent, then vote, as I am voting, for the Joint List. Its formation is the most astonishing and exciting thing to happen in electoral Israeli politics since I have been politically conscious, its leader, Ayman Odeh, is the most inspiring political figure I have heard from in a long time anywhere, and voting for the Joint List offers Jewish Israelis a rare opportunity to act in solidarity with a large, complex, diverse group of Palestinians whose leader explicitly emphasizes his commitment to peace, equality and democracy for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians alike.

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(2) Meretz. I hear that, you say, but my top priority is that Benyamin Netanyahu will not be Prime Minister again. Which I understand. If this is your main calculus at this juncture, and the above arguments haven’t yet swayed you to vote for the Joint List, I realize that I will be hard pressed to convince you otherwise. What I do ask is that you refrain from the smugness that has pervaded some of the pro-Meretz and anti-Joint List discourse. There are problems with the Joint List, to be sure. In addition to those listed in my original post, it is indeed too bad that they didn’t sign a Surplus Agreement with Meretz. Some of their members supported doing so, and others opposed it; as Ayman Odeh wrote on his Facebook, while he was in favor of such an agreement, the List was asked to decide in a very short amount of time, and didn’t have time to come to a consensus, and thus maintaining the unity of the List—unthinkably to some in the Jewish Israeli Left— was more important for the List than doing a favor for Meretz.

Wouldn’t I have preferred that the Joint List sign the agreement? Yeah. But let’s check ourselves before we fall in line behind Zehava Galon’s declaration that this “proves that the List failed the ultimate test for partnership.” The ultimate test? Careful, now.  Let’s not fall into a “Meretz is perfect” type of self-deception, and ignore the very sound critiques of the party (As Sami Shalom Shitrit rhetorically asked, “Why does our critique of Meretz’s behavior encompass all the Mizrahim, religious and secular, right and left, Zionists and non-Zionists, young and old?”). For me, as a pro-peace and anti-war activist, Meretz’s most glaring flaw was their recent unwillingness to support protests against Israel’s horrible war on Gaza this past summer. Meretz was the only group with the mobilizing capacity to bring tens of thousands of Jewish protestors to the street, and to resoundingly break through the demagogic rhetoric that “those who protest against the war hate Israeli soldiers and love Hamas.” But they wouldn’t. Only Hadash did so; for that, my allegiance to Hadash (now heading the Joint List) grew immensely. But Hadash doesn’t have the mobilizing capacity within the Jewish Israeli Left that Meretz does. (When Meretz finally supported the anti-war demonstrations, once a ceasefire had been reached, between 10,000 to 15,000 people showed up). Meretz failed to be a true voice for peace this summer, when they were needed most. At the aforementioned rally, after the ceasefire, they claimed to have been opposed to the war all along, which they may well have been on paper. But opposition on paper counts for very little when leaders won’t even back it up by calling their supporters to attend a nonviolent, public demonstration for fear of being called “too Left wing” or “treacherous.” Voting for Meretz is a far cry from a “a certain vote for the peace we all aspire to,” as Salman Masalha wrote in Haaretz.

All of that being said, if someone reads this, hears this, and then tells me that they still intend to vote Meretz, without condescension about the “Arabs not understanding politics” or pretension about “Meretz being a perfect vote for peace and democracy,” but simply as a desparate move to get Bibi and his ilk out, I cannot say without absolute confidence that they are wrong. What I can say with absolute confidence, though, is this: If you primarily want Bibi out, vote Meretz. Meretz is the only party that is both interested in sitting in a governing coalition (the Joint List has expressed that it is not; not that an Arab party is likely to be invited into a coalition anyway, something that has never happened in Israeli history) and unwilling to sit in a coalition with Bibi. The Zionist Union may end up forming a unity government with Netanyahu; this would be the worst possible outcome of these elections. The stronger Meretz is, the less the chances of the Zionist Union doing so are. It is as simple as that. If you believe in peace, and desperately want Bibi out of the ruling coalition, there is no reason to vote for the Zionist Union instead of Meretz. None.

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(3). Shas. If you won’t vote for the Joint List, and having Bibi out of the coalition is not your number one priority, but you are interested in protesting against poverty and the marginalization of Mizrahim, vote Shas. Seriously. In a single campaign, Shas has dared to do what so few politicians dare to do, namely, smashing through the absurd rhetoric -rampant in the US, Europe and Israel- of “supporting the middle class.” In essence, Shas has said in this campaign: “Yes. It’s probably hard to be middle class. But what about the lower class?” and declared their intention to advocate for those living under the poverty line. Sami Shalom Shitrit’s explanation of why he is doing so is worth a read. (While his explanation of why he won’t vote Meretz seems sound, but there is a strange lapse in solid argumentation as to why Shas and not the Joint List. He argues that ”There are only two parties that represent poor families and transparent young people in Israel: the Arab Joint List and Shas. I believe in the vision of a place in which Jews and Arabs live together in peace and in mutual respect. Enough of the incitement and with the ruination of the soul.” Then Shitrit goes on to say that his vote for Shas is “not a protest vote. Not a Jewish vote.” But failing to offer a compelling explanation regarding why not the Joint List, it seems like it is just that…)

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(4). If you’re a centrist or a right-winger, and you happened to stumble upon this blog, vote Kahlon. If Shas is too religious, the Joint List is too Arab, Meretz is too elitist or timid, and you want to vote centrist / just a little bit Right, vote Moshe Kahlon. At least he has a record to prove that he’s been fairly effective in advocating against big businesses, and he was totally decent in the debate, and has expressed openness to territorial concessions for peace. I think he may be the best choice out of all of the centerish and right-wingish parties. Or if you happen to be a Haredi Jew who somehow found his or her way to this blog, I’ll also add that I don’t have any huge gripes against the United Torah Judaism party, even though I don’t agree with the majority of their agenda, I think they are less detrimental to peace and less bellicose than many of the other parties.

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(5). Haredi Women’s party or the Green Party.

Seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

Do not vote for the Zionist Union. If you won’t vote for the Joint List, and your top priority is to get Bibi out, not just because he is Bibi but because of his policies, vote Meretz. It’s as simple as that. A vote for Meretz is a vote for the most left-wing elements of the Zionist Union, and also (for a moment of poignant wordplay), for the most left-wing elements of the Zionist union, as it were.

And Yair Lapid seems to have no values whatsoever. What is the value of voting for someone with no values?

Definitely don’t vote for Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman or Eli Yishai, all of whom terrify me in equal measure. I’m serious. These four men are terrifying and their worldviews are terrifying.

If you are a progressive who for some reason doesn’t want to vote for the Joint List, Meretz or Shas, you could totally vote for one of the awesome parties that won’t make it into the Knesset, like the Haredi women’s party, or the Green Party.

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That’s all for now.

Oh, and here’s a little ballot I made up, with Green Check being Best, Yellow Check being OK, a Combined X and Yellow Check being Whatever, Red X being Terrible, and Question Mark being I can’t tell you more than two words about this party.

A Leftern Ballot

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