Herzog Defends Himself Amid Growing Criticism From Fellow Zionist Union Lawmakers

Top party MKs call on opposition leader to step down if police open criminal investigation over possible corruption in run-up to party elections in 2013.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog at an event in honor of MK Shelly Yacimovich, April 10, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog defended himself against allegations into his conduct and the ongoing police investigation against him on Tuesday as he faces growing criticism from fellow Zionist Union lawmakers.

"I will go wherever needed, answer any question, any claim, any piece of slander and malice, and we will put this saga behind us," Herzog said at a gathering organized by fellow party lawmaker Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv.

"A leader's role is to cope – to cope with crises, to cope with criticism and to cope also with tales. You chose me to lead this party and this camp to power, and I intend to keep on going that way, even if it's difficult and riddled with obstacles."

The Zionist Union chairman is being investigated by the police fraud unit on suspicion that he received financing from people with vested interests during the 2013 primaries, in which he was elected party chairman. Haaretz reported on Monday that police had asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to approve a criminal investigation against him.

Herzog's colleague, MK Shelly Yacimovich, also spoke on Tuesday of the case. "At this point, with no formal notice by the attorney general on an opening of a criminal investigation, it's not proper to press Herzog and make hasty decisions."

"This isn’t Herzog's private issue, but a shadow over all of us. Should there be developments we will make decisions accordingly, and I completely trust Herzog that he too will know to make the right decisions if necessary.
 
On his part, Peretz told Herzog that "When it comes to me, you will receive all the necessary space to prove your innocence and remove the cloud hovering above us all."   
 
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of opposition Knesset members believe that Herzog should quit his post if summoned by police for questioning.

Speaking off the record, MKs from the Zionist Union and other opposition parties said that they were not comfortable with the idea of Herzog remaining as opposition leader during a criminal investigation.

 “We’re starting to increasingly feel Herzog’s personal weight on our backs,” a Zionist Union MK said Tuesday. “If the investigation doesn’t end quickly, his personal situation might sink the whole ship. Even before this affair, he was portrayed as a not-very-successful opposition leader, unable to guide the opposition with any success. Now his leadership has been damaged in a manner that may be irreversible.”

Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel said that he supported Herzog and did not think he should suspend himself. But he added that “if we need to take some decisions, we won’t hesitate. Herzog himself requested that he be summoned for questioning. We give him our full support and expect a decision to be reached quickly. The most important thing is that the truth emerges soon, but the road is still long.”

MK Erel Margalit, also from the Zionist Union, said two weeks ago that Herzog would have to consider suspending himself if he’s questioned under caution.

MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) said in a radio interview that “from the perspective of values, I think that some kind of suspension should be considered, perhaps not a resignation. The integrity of our national leaders is one of the most important topics, in my view.”

He added that he wasn’t necessarily referring to Herzog and was leaving the decision to the caucus leader. He later published another statement in which he said that “Herzog does not have to suspend himself and for me he is beyond reproach.”

A source associated with Herzog told Haaretz that “Herzog is usually an anxious and easily-stressed person, but in this case, he seemed calm and confident when we spoke. I’m sure that if there was anything substantial in these suspicions he would behave quite differently. I can reassure everyone. If he believes it’s necessary, he’ll be the first to suspend himself, long before anyone tries to show him the door.”

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) expressed great concern over Herzog’s ability to continue in his role. She stated that “regardless of political differences, suspicion of corruption is a red line that must not be crossed and from which we must clearly dissociate ourselves.”

MK Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint Arab List) also called on Herzog to suspend himself. “If he is questioned under caution I’d suggest that he suspend himself as head of the opposition, so that he has time for his own affairs, letting us lead a true and fighting opposition to counter the dangerous policies of this government,” she said.

The Movement for Quality Government appealed to Herzog to quit his post or to suspend himself until the investigation is concluded.