Herzog Should Not Come to Netanyahu's Rescue

Zionist Union has a mandate from its voters to end the rule of Likud; joining the coalition would be a betrayal of that mission.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Zionist Chairman Isaac Herzog.Credit: AFP
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Likudniks and supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should apologize to the media, to Zionist Union campaigners and to the beleaguered Israeli actress Anat Waxman: The right’s “anyone but Bibi” campaign is far more effective.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on May 4, 2015. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The hatred within Likud and the loathing in Habayit Hayehudi, which had not previously yielded practical measures, have been joined by Avigdor Lieberman’s stunning maneuver (no wonder one of Yisrael Beiteinu’s coalition demands was chess instruction in schools), which raveled Netanyahu’s government in the making. Netanyahu has descended from being the election’s clear victor to having a fragile right-wing government whose premature death seems nearly inevitable.

Lieberman seems to be going for the jackpot — that is, Bibi’s head. Moshe Kahlon, who everyone is lionizing now in order to destroy with equal fervor later, declared after his friend’s dramatic announcement that “a government with 61 Knesset members is a bad government. ... I personally, after having signed the [coalition] agreement, am a little constrained.” Bridegrooms who feel “a little constrained” the day before their wedding are generally “much freer” and somewhere else a few months later.

The Haredi parties are satisfied, their loyalty assured, and despite its last-minute muscle-flexing Habayit Hayehudi has little choice. It’s a captive audience, like its left-wing twin, Meretz. Where would it go if it were to trip up Netanyahu now? But Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and the Haredim do not a coalition make.

It is therefore ironic that the only one who can save Netanyahu from the nightmare of a 61-member coalition is Isaac Herzog, who will presumably be called at some point to rescue Bibi from the predators of his own political bloc. Zionist Union voters could find themselves turned into Netanyahu’s safety net. Some, who champion the influencing from within doctrine that was so successful when Ehud Barak joined Netanyahu’s government in 2009, might even rejoice.

Given the silence of both Herzog and Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich on the ethical and political issues surrounding the coalition talks — from the efforts to weaken the Supreme Court to giving the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division to Uri Ariel, from meddling in the media to the protests by Ethiopian Israelis — it would be nave to ask them to open an ideological front against Netanyahu. They want to be ministers, and their party’s DNA does not genuinely oppose the occupation, with its injustices and frequent rounds of violence.

Still, the current task of the Labor Party’s leaders is to bring Netanyahu’s rule to an end. That is the mandate they were given by their voters from across the center-left spectrum. Any other action would be a betrayal of that mission.

A narrow right-wing government, with its aggressive legislative initiatives, is a frightening prospect. Losing power and influence — in the courts, in academia, in the media — is also a frightening prospect. But a narrow right-wing government is inevitable, first of all because that is what the democratic will of the people has demanded. Disappointed Likud voters voted for Kahlon after he promised that he would not join a coalition that is dependent on the Arab parties, while Kahanism fell just short of getting enough votes to return to the Knesset in the form of the Yachad party. Second, because the peace camp, even if it is in the minority, must rebuild itself — mainly by regaining its pride and self-confidence and developing a clear foundation of principles.

It is inconceivable that a person for whom “leftist” and “treason” are companion words should benefit from the whitewashing services of left-wing voters. It is inconceivable that a person who claimed to be an alternative to government by Netanyahu and the right should destroy that alternative just a few months later. After all, if Netanyahu’s well-known core values are so acceptable to Labor that it would consider joining his coalition, then why not just merge with Likud instead of insisting on being a more polite and less popular version of that party?

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