Photo Credit: Tamar Zandberg's Facebook page
Tamar Zandberg with a friend in Washington, DC

The first primary elections in the history of Israel’s leftwing party Meretz resulted in MK Tamar Sandberg becoming the head the party. Zandberg defeated Peace Now leader Avi Buskila with 71% of the votes, compared to Buskila’s 29%.

Voter turnout was particularly low at the computerized 130 polling stations throughout the country, and at the end of the day only 54%, or about 17,000 of the approximately 32,000 eligible voters had arrived at the polls.

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In a speech broadcast live on Facebook, Zandberg spoke of her desire to lead the party to the center of Israeli politics. “We will break into the center of the political stage,” she said. “We will lead as a strong left-wing force – in every stage, in the Knesset, in the streets, on social networks – we will be everywhere.”

“Something is happening in Meretz,” the new chairwoman declared. “Something has happened in the past two months – the numbers of new registered members that surprised all the reporters who had already eulogized us. I told all the reported that Meretz was not going to be boring.”

“We will be part of the transformation that Israel is so desperate for,” Zandberg added. “We will break the patterns of Israeli politics that have pushed us into a corner and claimed that the public is not with us and that we have lost it and turned silent … We will become a huge public that has not given up on Israeli democracy and equality.”

Meretz, a coalition of several small Israeli political parties to the left of Labor, peaked in the 1992 Knesset elections, with 12 votes. It joined the Labor coalition government of the late Yitzhak Rabin and supported the Oslo accords that established an independent Palestinian Authority in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In 2003, Meretz dropped from 10 to 5 seats, and continued to slide downward, to as low as 3 seats in 2009. The party currently has 5 seats in the Knesset.

Chairwoman Sandberg, who also chairs the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, and is the first person in this position to support the legalization of cannabis, plans to siphon votes away from the Labor party (a.k.a. Zionist Camp), which is projected to lose half its power—down from 24 to 12 seats—come next elections.

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