I hope opposition leader Isaac Herzog will forgive me for saying this, but his ally these days is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He and no other. Although Herzog declared limply on the night of the cease-fire declaration that he sees himself as the next prime minister, the responsible step for him to take as a leader is to join Netanyahu’s government – and replace Habayit Hayehudi.
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There is no shortage on the right of determined critics, quick to anger and rattle their swords, who feel that Netanyahu did not smash Hamas enough, did not bomb enough, did not navigate the past months towards a total crushing of Gaza, or that he was too moderate and conducted negotiations under fire. On the left, and largely alone, stands Herzog of Labor.
Herzog tends to speak in slogans. They don’t turn him into a leader. A few days ago, for example, he said on Channel 2, “I would deliver blows to Hamas as though there were no negotiations with Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas), and talk to Abu Mazen as though there were no blows against Hamas.” This linguistic cleverness attested not only to a preference for a sound bite over real content, but also to an certain lack of understanding of the important statement by David Ben-Gurion during World War II: “We will fight the White Paper as though there were no Hitler, and we will fight Hitler as though there were no White Paper.”
Had Herzog said that we have to fight the demonstrations of racism, hatred of the “other” and polarization in Israeli society as though there were no war in Gaza, fine. But his paraphrase missed the target twice – because those who have to fight Israel as though there were no Hamas and to fight Hamas as though there were no Israel are Abu Mazen and the PA’s supporters in the Gaza Strip. But in any case Herzog is not Abu Mazen’s adviser. This is another reflection of his attempt to seem both tough and peace-loving at the same time.
And now a cease-fire has been declared. During the last week of the fighting Herzog finally recognized the importance of his personal support for the kibbutzim of the south, which historically and practically have ties to his political home. Now it’s time for him to act.
He should not hesitate, he should not become entangled in responding to condemnations from his camp about not being sufficiently leftist during the fighting. Herzog must take steps to join the government. Of course Netanyahu himself has to understand that the clear Israeli interest at this time is a broad-based government that includes the Labor Party.
An election now would not bring about the revolution in awareness and the diplomatic and historical upheaval that the State of Israel needs to survive as a pluralistic democracy alongside its Palestinian neighbors. On the other hand, a government in partnership with Labor would contribute to stability in Israel and prevent deterioration and extremism. Herzog’s disadvantages at present are also his strengths. The fact that he supported Netanyahu at the same time he supported the strengthening and legitimacy of Abu Mazen during the fighting enables him to serve in the government.
Forming a government more extreme and right-wing than Netanyahu’s after the election would mean the collapse of democracy in Israel. Many Israelis understand that. Herzog, to use his own comparison, must work to enter the government as though there were no left, and vice versa.