Spurned by Netanyahu, Herzog Blames Party Rival Yacimovich for Netanyahu-Lieberman Pact

In a blistering attack, the Zionist Union leader says his predecessor as Labor Party chief 'will bear responsibility for the appointment of Lieberman as defense minister.'

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog speaks at a press conference on unity talks in Jerusalem, May 18, 2016.
Emil Salman

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to make right-winger Avigdor Lieberman defense minister Wednesday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog blamed his main rival in the Labor Party and the wider Zionist Union.

Speaking at a press conference, Herzog said Shelly Yacimovich, his predecessor as leader of the Labor Party, was responsible for Netanyahu’s decision not to bring Zionist Union into the governing coalition. Herzog called Yacimovich “president of Facebook.” Using Netanyahu’s nickname, he said she had “begged to be a minister in the Bibi government.”

Yacimovich, for her part, said Herzog’s “aggressive tone” would not offset the damage caused by the “pathetic demonstration of lack of leadership.”

Herzog also blamed what he called a “pact” between Yacimovich and Zehava Galon, the leader of the Meretz party just to the left of Labor.

“The Yacimovich-Galon pact deterred voters because of radical left positions that don’t reflect our positions. We’re a center-left party, not radical left,” he said.

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) during a Knesset Education Committee meeting, December 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

“The same people preaching that we talk with Hamas took every action to block a move that would have brought historic change, without knowing a thing about the negotiations. Now the State of Israel and its people will have to deal with a government whose policy is already verging on insanity. This I tried to stop.”

Herzog said that he, unlike Yacimovich, was focusing on the good of the country.

“In recent months and even last week, Shelly Yacimovich was begging to be a minister in the Bibi government, preparing for a breakthrough diplomatic move,” Herzog said.

“She, who led the Labor Party in the past, and not that successfully, didn’t learn the lesson. The dramatic statements by the Egyptian foreign minister are more important and will have more an effect on our lives than the president of Facebook.”

According to Herzog, Yacimovich “will bear the responsibility for the appointment of Lieberman as defense minister.”

Regarding his talks with Netanyahu, Herzog said: “Yesterday I announced the cessation of the negotiations because we had reached a dead end after a number of far-reaching accords. I demanded to have all the agreements in writing. The prime minister refused.”

Some of the agreements were material to the two-state vision, he said, and an oral commitment was not enough.

The achievements reached in the talks included a veto on construction in the West Bank and a veto on all legislation his party considered racist.

Herzog said there were also “far-reaching socioeconomic achievements” including a better arrangement for Israel’s natural gas industry and foreign affairs. He said Israel would be “defending its good name overseas, immediately supporting diplomatic negotiations.”

He said Zionist Union would have received the defense portfolio, the foreign affairs portfolio, the economic affairs portfolio and the leadership of seven more ministries. It would have received five deputy ministerial positions and four Knesset committee chairs, including Foreign Affairs and Defense.

“From now on I shall lead the opposition in order to replace this government. Just as I could not be bent by threats and profanity, I will not be bent after the negotiations. Netanyahu should remember that today was the day he missed a historic opportunity to lead to big change,” he said.

“We have finished that chapter and are setting out to replace the Lieberman-[Naftali] Bennett government. We will not allow the Lieberman government of insanity a single day of peace. We will unite our forces .... We won’t let the radical left run riot.”

He said that in the March 2015 election, he nearly led the center-left camp to victory. “I proved that I’m the only one who can talk to a wide range of people and can create an alternative to the insane right-wing government,” he said.

Yacimovich, for her part, said Herzog’s “aggressive tone” would not offset the damage caused by the “pathetic demonstration of lack of leadership and acceptance of responsibility by the one who laid out the red carpet for Lieberman, legitimizing the right-wing government that we wouldn’t have agreed to join for any price.”

She called Herzog’s allegations “a calumny and lie.”

“I did not ask to join the government,” she said. “From the start I was promised to serve as a senior minister and I categorically rejected the suggestion. I haven’t yet decided whether to run against Herzog for the [Labor Party] leadership.”

She said “the overbearing aggressive tone won’t cover the damage and shame caused not only to the Labor Party but to politics in general. People see lies, manipulation, broken promises and reversals, and it undermines their faith. Irreversible damage was caused today.”