Like a Tel Aviv Justin Trudeau, Tamar Zandberg’s rise to political glory was fast and furious. Eloquent, striking, and cool, she was a politician unafraid to harness the wild energies of progressive politics—from talk of identity to praise for veganism—to her benefit. Only 42, she went from the Tel Aviv City Council to the Knesset, becoming one of the brightest stars of the Meretz party. Last week, after a short and stormy campaign, she ascended to her party’s Olympus, beating a slew of other candidates in a contentious primaries to become its leader. Israeli pundits and social media users formed a hallelujah chorus, hailing a new age of youthful idealism in the otherwise gloomy world of Israeli politics.
It was good while it lasted: Yesterday: Zandberg found herself in hot water after news broke that she owed her victory in the primaries in large part to Moshe Klughaft, a notable right-wing political strategist who had previously consulted to Ha’Bayit Ha’Yehudi party and its leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett. And while hiring professionals for campaigns across ideological lines isn’t necessarily a sin in of itself, Zandberg’s troubles are compounded by two critical factors. First, Klughaft was the mastermind behind working with the right-wing Im Tirzu movement in a highly controversial campaign that accused left-wing groups of acting as agents of foreign governments, a campaign that culminated in ads depicting a former Meretz leader, Naomi Hazan, with a horn on her forehead. And, more crucially, when asked by Haaretz last week if Klughaft had ever advised her campaign in any capacity, paid or unpaid, Zandberg lied, denying any connection to the political operative.
According to Haaretz, a person involved with Zandberg’s campaign confirmed that she and Klughaft “were in continuous contact throughout the campaign. They were not friends, it was a professional relationship.” Pressed by these admissions, Zandberg finally admitted on Saturday evening that she was in touch with Klughaft and that he indeed advised her on the campaign.
Zandberg’s admission sent shockwaves throughout the already fragile Israeli left, an electoral bloc that has shrunk considerably in the last two decades. Leading analysts, like Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, have called on Zandberg to reconsider her candidacy, arguing that a person who hired a virulent anti-left ideologue and then lied about it to save face was not fit to lead the Israeli left, particularly not in a party like Meretz that had long prided itself as committed to cleaner, more ethical political practices. Whether Zandberg takes responsibility for her actions and resigns remains to be seen.