Herzog Presides Over Tumultuous Zionist Union Meeting, Absent Four Boycotters

Former Labor head MK Shelly Yacimovich boycotts party's first meeting since talks to join governing coalition collapsed, saying Herzog 'continues to lash out at members of his party.'

Isaac Herzog and Shelly Yacimovich of the Labor Party, in Tel Aviv in April, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog was the target of harsh criticism on Sunday at his faction first meeting since coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed last week. 

Four Zionist Union lawmakers - Shelly Yachimovich, Mickey Rosenthal, Stav Shaffir and Yossi Yona – boycotted the meeting.  

“I planned to attend the caucus, but realized that instead of accepting responsibility and calming the atmosphere, Herzog continues to lash out at members of his party in a divisive and inciting manner, and with identical rhetoric to that of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. I don’t plan to contribute to that,” said Yacimovich, who also stressed the need to heal the rifts within the party. 

At the meeting, Herzog slammed the boycotters, calling them "an anarchist group that want to break everything and destroy the party." In the event, a preparatory meeting ahead of the Knesset summer session to open on Monday, Herzog gave his version of the events that transpired in recent weeks, and the reasons for his decision not to join the Netanyahu government.

In response, lawmakers showered him with criticism. "This wasn't a rally of Bugie activists," one of the attendees said, using Herzog's nickname. "The MKs blasted him like there's no tomorrow. People spilled their guts."

His Zionist Union co-chair, MK Tzipi Livni said: "I have huge criticism over the manner in which the process was handled, and I expected a lot more as far as our partnership goes." Livni also presented the lawmakers with a proposal to hold an open primary to elect a new leader for the center-left bloc. MKs Amir Peretz, Itzik Shmuli and Manuel Trajtenberg demanded Herzog to announce unequivocally that the party will no longer try to join Netanyahu's coalition. 

"As I'm completely unwilling to accept the terms they called you, I will not accept an incitement and delegitimization  campaign by you against the left," Peretz said. 

To his critics, Herzog said that "he was not innocent of mistakes," but added that "the days when you could trash anyone are over."  The meeting next discussed the option of forming a large centrist political bloc, per Livni's proposal. 

'Mud fights'

Writing on his Facebook page, Rosenthal, one of the MKs who boycotted the meeting, said he had lost confidence in his party chairman.

“We have a very important challenge: replacing Netanyahu and his policy. In my humble opinion, it will be impossible to do this with Herzog ... who for his part said that I represent the extreme left that doesn’t belong in the party.”

Rosenthal went on to ascribe his nonattendance at the caucus to his desire not “to spoil the strident celebration Herzog is cooking up with his new acquisition, media adviser Ronen Tzur – the servant of the Ofer and Tshuva families – and the rapist [ex-] president [Moshe] Katsav.”

Shaffir said she opted out of the meeting because the fact that the caucus was closed to representatives of the media in advance proved that the party leadership was seeking to continue its “political intrigues,” rather than conducting a “transparent, serious” discussion of the way forward.

Yonah echoed her comments, saying a caucus that continued the “mud fights of recent days was not an answer to the crisis” of its Knesset delegation.

He called for the party’s central committee to meet in order to schedule a new election for the party leadership.

MKs Omer Bar-Lev and Erel Margalit both said they did not boycott the caucus but that crowded schedules had precluded their attendance.

Speaking at a cultural event in Kfar Sava on Saturday, Herzog said he had no plans to step down as party chairman – a move he said would provide “a dubious pleasure to extreme-left figures who have descended into rhetoric of division and violence, and to the extreme right, which has pulled Netanyahu. There is no room for the extreme left in Zionist Union. The unholy alliance between extremists destroyed the possibility to stop the next funeral procession.”

Regarding Yacimovich, who has been unsparing in her criticism of Herzog over the past week, the Labor Party chairman said, “Someone who declares that talking with the prime minister is a blood wedding, who compares me to a dog that walks on all fours while begging to join the government, has crossed a line, in my opinion.”