Even the most prominent rivals of Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog have, for the time being, apparently decided not to pick a public fight or demand that he suspend himself in the wake of his questioning under caution on Sunday.
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Quite a few Knesset members preferred to back him and publicly embraced him following questioning by Lahav 433, the police anti-corruption unit, over allegations that he may have received illicit campaign donations.
In recent weeks, Herzog has met with many party members in an attempt to dispel criticism of him due to these suspicions, and a few of them have agreed to grant him some quiet.
MK Shelly Yacimovich issued the sharpest response of all members of the faction – which includes Hatnuah and Labor – but she too didn’t clearly call for Herzog to suspend himself. At the base of the investigation Sunday was a possible campaign by him to blacken her name.
“No doubt, an investigation under caution of the party leader and opposition leader worsens the situation,” she said. “I’m convinced that Herzog has the best interests of the party and the opposition in mind, and I will work together with him and party members to decide what steps should be taken.”
In recent days, only seven members of Zionist Union – five of them off-record – have called for a public announcement by Herzog that he’s taking time off from leading the opposition and the faction until a decision is announced that clears his name. The only MKs to say such things on record have been Miki Rosenthal and Erel Margalit.
One senior Zionist Union official who did not want to be identified but supports the suspension explained why he decided not to publicly come out against Herzog.
“Herzog is in any case on a descent. I assume that even if he’s acquitted, he won’t manage to restore public affection toward him beyond the party lines. I believe that these are his last days in office, and that he won’t be leading us in the next election," said the official.
“The thing is that none of the other candidates has a political interest in replacing him at such an early stage and risking erosion of their public image such a long time before the election. The way things seem now, it’s a small matter and it’s doubtful that Herzog will be proven to have a criminal link to it. You don’t take down a chairman for such things,” he added.
Herzog himself carried on Sunday as he has from the moment the police investigation into him was revealed: He’s calm, he’s cooperating with his investigators, and he’s certain he’ll be cleared of any suspicions of wrongdoing attributed to him.
“If there’s someone in the party who isn’t calm – they better calm down,” Herzog said, alluding to Yacimovich’s criticism.
Just hours after his questioning, he showed up at a holiday toast for party veterans. Activists attending the event hugged him. For his part, Herzog was quick to clarify that “it’s no secret that over the past two weeks I declared again and again that I will come at any time and to any place and give my version of events. I did it this morning. I presented myself this morning without delay, I trust the law law-enforcement agencies and am grateful for their fair and respectful conduct.”
He also once again speculated that the investigation was launched with encouragement from his rivals, who hope to inherit the party leadership.
“Clearly this isn’t easy, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he added. “In the next election, I will win; you will win; the party will win.”
Most members of his Knesset faction offered him support after the session with Lahav 433. When he sent them a text message following his interrogation saying, “I’m completely convinced there was no fault to find in my actions,” a number of Labor MKs sent him supportive responses, including Manuel Trajtenberg, Revital Swid, Erel Margalit, Michal Biran, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Merav Michaeli, Yoel Hasson and Nachman Shai.
But MK Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah leader and his partner in forming the Zionist Union joint ticket, wasn’t one of them. She said merely, “We need to wait for the results of the investigation and make a decision on the issue. I hope the matter is resolved quickly.”
Other opposition parties also refrained from formally calling on Herzog to resign as their leader. Both Meretz and Joint Arab List have harshly criticized his performance as such – both because in their view he has veered rightward in his public statements and because he held talks on forming a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Nevertheless, only two opposition MKs – Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Aida Touma-Suliman (JAL) – have so far called for him to resign; indeed, they did so last week already.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said she hoped Herzog “would succeed in refuting the allegations against him and proving his innocence. If the investigation results in an indictment, Herzog will have to suspend himself from the role of leader of the opposition.
“Serving as opposition leader is a state function comparable to that of a minister,” she continued. “Therefore, the High Court of Justice ruling that says a minister under indictment must resign should also apply to the person who holds this post.”