Herzog, Livni to Haaretz Readers: We Don’t Rule Out Arab Parties

Zionist Union leaders answer readers' questions about next government, freedom of speech.

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Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni answer readers' questions at Haaretz's offices, February 22, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Haaretz hosted Zionist Union leaders MKs Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni at its editorial offices on Sunday to answer readers’ questions.

Herzog, chairman of the Labor Party, was elected to the Knesset for the first time in 2003 and was chairman of the opposition in the outgoing Knesset. He has served as housing minister, tourism minister, social services minister and cabinet secretary. An attorney, he lives in Tel Aviv and is married with three children.

Livni, chairwoman of Hatnuah, served in the outgoing cabinet as justice minister until she was dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The founder of Hatnuah, she was previously a member of Likud and Kadima, and was chairwoman of the latter party. She also served as foreign minister and opposition chairman. An attorney, she lives in Tel Aviv, and is married with two children. Here are some highlights from the online exchange.

Question from Yaron Golcher: If you are able to form a government after the elections, will you bring Hadash and the Arab parties (Joint List) into the government or the coalition?

Herzog: I disagree strongly with [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman’s criticism of the leaders of Joint List, who represent an important group and they themselves are important leaders. They should be given standing and respect.

Livni: With regard to bringing them into the coalition, everything will be discussed after the elections.

A reader: To Bougie and Tzipi: Are you not concerned that Meretz will fail to pass the voter threshold because of your campaign, which pushes the center-left to support Herzog to ensure that he heads the largest slate? The polls show that Meretz stands at 4–5 seats today.

Livni: The main task for all of us is to replace Netanyahu and for the people of Israel, when the results of the election are in, to call on the president to choose Herzog to form the next government. The only way to replace Netanyahu is to put a Zionist Union ballot in the ballot box. Everyone should ask themselves what is the most important thing in these elections.

Herzog: Our information shows that Meretz has its stable bloc, which is maintaining itself above the voter threshold. Meretz is certainly a respectable party to our minds and we utterly reject its campaign message – that we made a deal with Bibi [Netanyahu]. I have no intention of debating with Meretz. We are a large centrist party, which touches all groups in Israeli society and we offer everyone a home with us. From the moment I started this campaign I have been trying to break apart the mistaken, rigid thinking that Netanyahu is invincible. I am happy to reveal that this is beginning to trickle down to the public. The latest survey by Channel 10 brings the gap between us [in suitability to be prime minister] down to 4 percent.

Question from Gila: Dear Bougie and Tzipi, neither of you has made a public statement about your decision to support the disqualification of [MK] Haneen Zoabi [from running for the Knesset]. I would be happy to hear, for the first time, each of your positions. You are both champions of freedom of thought and expression. So what happened this time? Tzipi, you said you were waiting for the decision of the attorney general, and when he decided not to support the ban, you supported it anyway. Why?

Livni: I acted just a few months ago to prevent passage of a bill by which MKs could dismiss each other without a legal proceeding. We are both indeed champions of democracy. Part of this means democracy that protects itself, that allows those who participate in the democratic process, those who accept the values of democracy, and those who do not use violence or terror, to achieve political goals – to act. Therefore I opposed the legislation without judicial oversight. The legislation today is such that it includes oversight by the High Court of Justice, and the words spoken by Zoabi include the promotion of violence as a [political] path.

Herzog: I indeed came out against the ban [on Zoabi] in the Central Election Committee in the last elections, but a few things have happened since then. Among other things, Operation Protective Edge. I expressed my repugnance for Zoabi’s statement that the [three] murdered teenagers were terrorists. [Editor’s Note: In a radio interview following the teenagers’ kidnapping last June, and prior to the discovery of their bodies, Zoabi did not say the boys were terrorists, but rather that their then-unidentified kidnappers “are not terrorists.”] I think that it was right to disqualify both Zoabi and [Kahanist leader] Baruch Marzel based on the same ruling that disqualified [Meir Kahane], but I respect the ruling of the High Court.

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