Meretz was originally founded in 1992 through a union of three other left wing political parties – Ratz, Mapam and Shinui. Ratz’s leader, veteran Knesset member Shualmit Aloni was pegged as the new party’s leader on their electoral list.
In the 1992 elections, Meretz won 12 seats, becoming the third largest party in Israel, and it joined the governing coalition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The party lost three seats in the 1996 elections and Aloni was defeated by Yossi Sarid in the party’s next plebiscite and she subsequently retired.
In 1997, the three parties officially merged into a single entity, though part of Shinui (under the leadership of Avraham Poraz) broke away to form a separate movement. Later in the Knesset session, David Zucker also left the party to sit as an independent MK.
Meretz won ten seats in elections for the 15th Knesset in 1999. The list included the first-ever female Israeli Arab MK, Hussniya Jabara. Meretz was invited into Ehud Barak’s coalition, but the party was out of the government just two years later when Ariel Sharon defeated Barak in a special election in 2001.
On October 22, 2002, Meretz MK Uzi Even made history by becoming the first openly gay Member of Knesset. His term lasted less than three months, however, as the Knesset was dissolved in January 2003.
For the 2003 elections, Meretz were joined by Roman Bronfman’s Democratic Choice Party, but performed worse, securing just six seats. Sarid accepted blamed and resigned as party leaders but remained in the Knesset.
In December 2003, Meretz disbanded and merged with Yossi Beilin’s non-parliamentary Shahar (שח"ר) movement and became the Yachad (Hebrew: יח"ד) Party, which means “Together” and is also a Hebrew acronym for Social-Democratic Israel (Hebrew: ישראל חברתית דמוקרטית, Yisrael Hevratit Demokratit).
The party’s purpose was to unite a variety of dovish Zionist movements with the Labor Party. In March 2004, Beilin was elected party leader. In July 2005, the party changed its name to Meretz-Yachad. The party reverted to the name Meretz for the 2006 election, but the outcome was worse. The party won just five seats.
Beilin retired from politics and Haim Oron became the party’s leader in March 2008. A few months later the party merged with Hatnua HaHadasha (“the new movement”) but this failed to stop the party’s decline as it won only three seats in the 2009 Knesset elections.
In 2012, Zahava Gal-On became the new head of Meretz and helped lead the party to doubling its representation in Knesset by winning six seats in the January 2013 elections. This failed to rejuvenate the party, however, and it barely passed the threshold for securing representation in the 20th Knesset. Coming in last place, Meretz received four seats in the Knesset.
The poor showing resulted in another change in leadership with Tamar Zandberg taking over in 2018.
Despite their small representation Meretz claimed a number of achievements in the 20th Knesset, including:
- Raising the disability pension. A historic achievement on the way to a just society that cares for all its citizens.
- Prohibition of consumption of prostitution. A law that placed Israel at the forefront of the fight against sexual exploitation and violence against women.
- Maternity leave for fathers. A law that requires employers to allow a child to have parental leave.
- Amendment to the statute of limitations. A statute that prevents obsolescence in cases in which the defendant prevented the filing of a complaint by improper means.
The 2019 platform includes the following positions:
- Meretz calls for an end to the occupation and for reaching an agreement that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. We believe that Israel should adopt the Arab League initiative and that the Israeli government should declare on its own initiative that it adheres to a political settlement based on the partition of the land based on the 1967 borders. Meretz calls for an immediate freeze on the settlement enterprise.
- Meretz will fight for the defense of democracy and civic equality. Israel is a democratic state, a state of the Jewish people and a state of all its citizens. The status of every citizen without distinction on the basis of nationality must be equal. Meretz will fight manifestations of racism, nationalism and fascism. Meretz will fight against anti-democratic legislative initiatives, against the damage to the judicial system, the press, academia and freedom of expression.
- Meretz will continue to act to completely separate religion and state , to apply civil marriage to all residents of the state and to operate public transportation on the Sabbath.
- Meretz will continue its struggle against racism and institutionalized discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel. Throughout the years of the state, Arab citizens of Israel have been discriminated against in a profound and systematic manner in many areas. The state must take responsibility for the years of discrimination and correct it.
- Meretz offers a fair, just and transparent socio-democratic economic alternative , out of deep recognition of the state’s responsibility for its citizens. Meretz will promote a welfare state that includes regulation, effective supervision and promotion of workers’ rights. Will act to reform the tax system and to revolutionize the labor market. Meretz will lead a wide range of social services to the public in the fields of health, education, housing and welfare. Meretz will act to change the priorities of the state budget and will fight privatization.
- Meretz will promote plans to reduce the cost of living in housing, banking, services and consumer goods.
- Meretz will fight for women’s rights , against their exclusion, strive to ensure representation of women in every public body or decision-making center, to stop discrimination in employment, education and health and for personal safety in the family and in the public sphere.
- Meretz has struggled and will continue to struggle to recognize the different communities and their ability to live in dignity as citizens and equal citizens in Israel, to lead a full family life and not to suffer any form of discrimination.
- Meretz will continue to lead the struggle for environmental justice. We will promote a policy of conservation versus development, protection of natural resources, and animal rights.
- Meretz sees the education system as the most important resource for the establishment of a successful and successful society, and will work to promote free, equal and equal education for all Israeli children.
- Meretz is committed to fighting government corruption , and to the closeness between capitalists and government officials. We will act to reduce centralization in the economy, to increase transparency in the governmental and local government systems, and to take steps with regard to election financing and lobbyists.
In the April 2019 election, Meretz won just four seats. Following the poor result, Meretz chose journalist and former MK Nitzan Horowitz as its new party leader. Horowitz is the first openly gay leader of a political party in Israel.
On July 25, 2019, Meretz agreed to form a joint list – the Democratic Union – with the new Democratic Israel Party created by former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The party won five seats in the September 2019 election.
Meretz announced the party would run together with Labor-Gesher in the March 2, 2020, election. Horowitz and Labor leader Amir Peretz agreed that Peretz would lead the joint slate and Gesher’s Orli Levi-Abekasis would be placed in the second spot on the roster. Horowitz will be placed third on the joint ticket.
Chaim Levinson and Bar Peleg, “Democratic Union Leaders Launch Campaign: Left Has Never Been Stronger; Netanyahu – Your Time Is Up,” Haaretz, (July 25, 2019);
Jonathan Lis, “Labor Party, Meretz Announce Merger Ahead of Israel Election,” Haaretz, (January 13, 2020).