Zionist Camp? Isaac Herzog Heads Israel's Cynical Camp

Despite his looks, the Labor Party leader is a cold-blooded political knife-wielder. And he cozies up to right-winger Avigdor Lieberman.

Tomer Appelbaum

In a calmer and stabler country, from Scandinavia to Britain, Isaac Herzog would be a natural candidate for prime minister — especially in Britain, and not just because of the Herzog family’s Belfast roots.

David Cameron and his predecessors for 25 years have not become British prime minister with any more qualifications than Herzog in terms of education, activism or skill in intraparty politics. Herzog was also an intelligence officer and absorbed everything a curious and talented youth could absorb in the security-diplomacy-politics-filled home he grew up in.

After all, one of his uncles was Abba Eban, a foreign minister; another was Yaakov Herzog, a director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. And his father was head of Military Intelligence, and later UN ambassador, and later president. His father was also the first military governor of the West Bank, an estate the son can now evacuate — a Herzog took it (or received it, since he didn’t fight there himself), and now a Herzog can give it up.

In a different country, say Germany or France, Herzog wouldn’t need a former top military officer as his candidate for defense minister. His navigator Tzipi Livni would be enough, which would leave foreign affairs open for a coalition partner like Yair Lapid.

It’s clear the volunteers who showed up for screening at his induction center won’t be parachuted into the government’s second most important post; at best, they could win a portfolio at the security fringes like strategic affairs and a seat in the security cabinet.

Actually, it’s far more important to know who he would appoint head of the National Security Council, and then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service. All these agencies are due for a change at the top within a year.

Herzog is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; his vegetarian smile conceals sharp teeth, and he’s a skilled, cold-blooded political knife-wielder. But to govern, not just to get elected, you need more. The Zionist Camp slate led by Herzog and Livni is far better to vote for than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but in absolute terms it doesn’t inspire confidence as a government-in-waiting.

There’s a big difference between protesting and managing, between Knesset oversight and functioning in the executive branch. Che Guevara’s revolution succeeded but his economic policies failed. The Herzog-Livni ticket is packed with question marks that don’t seem ready to become exclamation points.

Worst of all is the contempt Herzog is showing for the law, reflected by his pushing of Moshe Mizrahi to the far reaches of his Knesset slate. Mizrahi was the chief investigator of alleged party-funding violations in 1999, when Herzog was questioned but chose to remain silent. In the meantime, he’s courting Avigdor Lieberman, who gloated at Mizrahi’s failure. Lieberman laughed, and once again Herzog kept mum.

As Herzog travels in the right lane of the centrist road, leaving the left lane for Meretz, which Lieberman has ruled out as a coalition partner, he’s trying to pick up Moshe Kahlon and Lapid voters along the way. With his obsequious attitude toward Lieberman, he’s ignoring Yisrael Beiteinu’s voters and the corruption in the party. He’s focusing on the sole ruler.

Herzog ought to read what the attorney general wrote about Lieberman, even as he was closing that big-time graft case against him. Not everyone who wants to overthrow Avigdor’s former friend will agree to vote for his new friend, Herzog, who has rented Lieberman his soul.

In Netanyahu’s government, whose ruins Herzog is proposing to rehabilitate, Lieberman dictated who got the public security portfolio and partly the justice portfolio (Yaakov Neeman yes, Livni no). He even dictated the placement of Lapid in the Finance Ministry so the Foreign Ministry would remain his. If he clears the electoral threshold and is needed for a government, he can once again demand the law-enforcement portfolios and thus control the appointments of the next police commissioner and attorney general in the coming months.

The pliable and foldable Herzog will pay any price; he won’t repeat Livni’s failure in 2008, when, after Ehud Olmert resigned, she couldn’t form a government because she refused to meet Shas’ demands. If she had appointed Roni Bar-On to form her government there wouldn’t have been an election and Netanyahu wouldn’t have returned as prime minister. Thus behaves the head of the cynical camp.