Opposition Leader Herzog Feels the Heat, Putting Talks of Israeli Unity Government on Backburner

The Zionist Union leader’s standing — not great to begin with — has eroded further thanks to a police probe and his underhanded party rival Shelly Yacimovich.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Marc Israel Salem and Moti Milrod

Under the media radar and without any announcement that the police probe into alleged political funding violations had become a criminal investigation, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog walked into the offices of Lahav 433, the police anti-corruption unit and the house of horrors for all Israeli politicians.

When he emerged he updated his faction colleagues on WhatsApp. Several responded with short messages of encouragement: “We’re with you Bougie,” “Your success is our success,” “We believe in you,” “Hugs,” and the like. It resembled a youth group and recalled the Labor Party’s childish election slogan, “We believe in you, Mitzna,” which was aimed at encouraging the then-party chairman, Amram Mitzna. Like many of his predecessors, he didn’t last long after losing the election.

Shelly Yacimovich didn’t join the hugfest. On the contrary, she exploited this development to slightly tighten and add a loop to the noose around Herzog’s neck.

MK Shelly Yacimovich.
Olivier Fitoussi

“I’m sure that the good of the party and the opposition is on the top of Herzog’s mind, and I will cooperate with him and with my party colleagues to determine what steps to take,” she wrote. Sunday it seemed as if the cooperation she was referring to was solely with herself. Most faction members seem to prefer treating the suspect with compassion and allowing him the presumption of innocence.

Herzog was greeted warmly when he arrived at a party conference almost immediately after his questioning Sunday. “I’m calm, and if anyone in the party is not calm, I suggest he calm down,” he said. He chose to use a macho and aggressive slogan of the type he’s been adopting since the suspicions against him came to light, but these phrases don’t seem natural for him. Apparently somebody is advising him to express himself this way. He of course had Yacimovich in mind, but if he had used female terminology the thought police would have immediately jumped on him and accused him of chauvinism.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog.
Ilan Assayag

Only a week ago Yacimovich embraced him warmly when he came to congratulate her at her party marking her 10 years in politics. He was probably thinking to himself “It’s lucky that we celebrate a decade only once in 10 years,” taking off on a well-known children’s birthday song.

The timing of his questioning – just before Passover and the Knesset recess that will last until May 23 – plays, for now, into Herzog’s hands. The opposition is not felt (though even before this it wasn’t exactly setting the agenda), and Herzog is not in the spotlight. He isn’t being dragged into parliamentary fights and isn’t required to confront the prime minister in the Knesset.

On May 15, a week before the Knesset resumes its deliberations, the Labor Party convention will convene to determine when the party leadership primary will be held. These are the two significant dates as far as the Zionist Union chairman is concerned, although it’s doubtful the police will complete the investigation by then.

Troubled Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog has the full support of his contenders for party leadership.
Amos Biderman

Herzog’s legal situation is unclear. His political situation wasn’t the greatest even before the investigation. Public opinion polls show party seats being siphoned off by Yesh Atid, and he is not perceived as being any kind of savior.

On the other hand, neither are his rivals. That’s the reason why in recent weeks there were accelerated efforts to try to get Zionist Union into Netanyahu’s government, a move that was supposed to be concluded, one way or the other, during the spring recess. But so long as Herzog is under investigation, a unity government is out, and the 61-member Netanyahu government is here to stay.