|Zahava Gal-On ((photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)|
"'Oh, I have to take your picture, my husband is your biggest fan!' gushed a passerby to Zahava Gal-On. By Ilan Lior | Jan.20, 2013"
And, after focusing upon Hadash MK Dov Khenin, columnist Ari Shavit lauds the apparent revival of Meretz under Zahava Gal-On:
The ideological optimism of left-wing parties Hadash and Meretz
.... The 2013 election campaign is being fought under a pervasive feeling that Israel is becoming nationalist and religious and illiberal. In the 2013 election, the left seems not to exist. The initiative and the momentum are in the hands of the right wing, and the agenda is that of the right. But when Zahava Gal-On enters one of the cafes on Ahad Ha’am Street, she brings an unexpected gust of energy, grit and hope.
It’s true, she says, the struggle this time is a powerful one between enlightened, modern, liberal Israel and ethnocentric, racist, hardali Israel (referring to a fusion of ultra-Orthodox and national-religious). It’s a full-fledged culture war between the rabbi and the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of man. We are now seeing the invasive weed of religious Zionism in all its ugliness. We are seeing with our own eyes the zealots who are trying to kill the two-state solution and bring about the destruction of the democratic Jewish state. But even though at the start of the election campaign it was difficult to see who would stand against the nationalists − now we see. Suddenly there is an awakening. Suddenly there is a spirit of resistance.
Wherever she goes, Gal-On is discovering that many are gathering anew around Meretz. The students are with Meretz. The high-schoolers are with Meretz. Meretz is once more becoming the proud, strong, left-wing party of Israel.
The achievement scored by Gal-On in this campaign is apparently nothing short of sensational. Under her leadership, Meretz has again become the salient party of the Zionist left. Yet, Zahava is no left-wing princess. She was born in Vilna, grew up in a hardscrabble family, and still lives in Petah Tikva. After taking part in the struggles for an open Shabbat in her city in the 1980s, she made her way into Ratz (the forerunner of Meretz), B’Tselem (the human-rights organization that monitors the territories), the Center for Peace in the Middle East and the Knesset.
However, her emotional presence is very different from that of most of the people who are hunched over their laptops at the neighboring tables. Gal-On cannot be accused of being supercilious, self-righteous or false. There is no remoteness or coldness or pretense in her. Even when she is fighting the country’s wrongs, the leader of the Israeli left goes about it with Israeli passion and Israeli authenticity and without airs. The person sitting across from her cannot but feel deep esteem and great sympathy for her.
.... Gal-On’s strong voice and her sharp ideological profile breathed new, young life into the ossified party. All of a sudden, Meretz is “in.” Out of nowhere, Meretz is a trend. In the recent mock elections held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the party won 22 seats; at Tel Aviv University the number was 26 seats, with 13 percent of first-time voters set to cast their ballot for Meretz. Gal-On’s rejuvenated left is apparently alive and kicking.
.... Compared to the forces that have now seized control of Likud and given rise to Habayit Hayehudi, the disparities between center-left and left are negligible. When all is said and done, it was the three lone MKs of Meretz who fought for Israeli democracy during the past four years. Zahava Gal-On was the one who championed the rule of law and human dignity and women’s equality and an enlightened Israel.
.... Gal-On tells me about the hard times. Facing the burning xenophobia of Shas’ Eli Yishai, the rabid nationalist populism of Likud’s Miri Regev and Danny Danon. Confronting the sophistication of the sanguine fascists who are trying to undermine the Supreme Court and emasculate the media.
.... They appeared to have been totally successful at delegitimizing us. But I persisted in remaining a proud left-winger in the teeth of their assault. I insisted that we come out of the closet and take our stand opposite them with pride. Leftists, come home, I said. Leftists, don’t be afraid to be what you are.
At first I was told I was nuts, it wouldn’t work. But I always remembered the marvelous words of the Solidarity activists in Poland: Not even the harshest winter will prevent the arrival of spring. And now, when I see so many students again flocking to Meretz meetings, I think I really am starting to see the spring.
Things will be terrible under the terrible government that Netanyahu will form after the election. But the new government will not last, and it will face potent opposition from a strong Meretz, which will fight the government fearlessly and ruthlessly. Next week, after Meretz doubles its strength, we will once more have a left wing that is returning to itself and restoring its belief in itself, and we will fight for our home.