Want to Make History Bougie? Put Peace First

The new Labor leader must push the peace agenda as an expression of his own character and beliefs, not as an echo of the Labor Party aristocracy into which he was born.

Several years ago, the late, lovely, and aristocratic Suzie Eban made a dinner-party at her home in Herzliya. Unexpectedly, she made a speech, including an inadvertently aristocratic gaffe that gave some of her guests an enjoyable giggle. "The family," she noted, had always contributed one of its members to the service of the nation.

She spoke of her late, great husband Aubrey (Abba Eban, Israel's longtime foreign minister) and of her brother-in-law, Vivian (Chaim Herzog, Israel's sixth president, her sister Ora's husband). And then she added, with innocent pride, that Bougie (Isaac Herzog, Chaim's and Ora's son, who had recently become a minister) would now be the one representing the family in the high echelons of government and diplomacy.

What was she thinking of, people whispered to each other good-naturedly. The Kennedys? The Roosevelts? The Howards, always Dukes of Norfolk and Earls Marshal of England?! Israel was supposed to be a republic, where only merit counted, not yichus. Bougie seemed tickled, if a little embarrassed.

That memory of that charming evening floats up now, in the shade of Isaac Herzog's victory in the Labor Party's leadership primary. "The family" can well be gratified by the poetic justice rendered it by Bougie's triumph. Uncle Aubrey was dumped from office with cruel, unveiled contempt by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992. The two had had a jaundiced relationship as foreign minister (Eban) and ambassador to Washington (Rabin) in the 1970s. Golda Meir, the prime minister, seemed happy to goad them into further discord. Shimon Peres would not or could not intervene to save Eban's honor. The party just shrugged. Eban was never popular in the party and was never seen as a political leader.

But this is not merely a moment of aristocrats' revenge. Eban, throughout his long career as diplomat and minister, totally embodied and brilliantly expressed Israel's strategic yearning for peace with its neighbors and the wider Arab world. Looking back, he towers over his contemporaries not just as a great rhetorician but as a clear-sighted prophet.

Herzog's campaign for the party leadership focused, in essence, on Labor's peace policy and specifically on chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich's dogged refusal to put the peace and occupation issue front-and-center on Labor's election platform, in its daily program and in her own functioning as leader of the opposition.

To judge by the unequivocal result of the primary, Herzog's pointed criticism of her high-handed, economy-first tactics struck a chord among party members. That itself should be a source of encouragement for him to cleave to his own peace-first strategy, not just as the family tradition, nor merely as bearer of his uncle's heritage, but as his own contribution to Israel's history at a decisive moment. 

Daniel Bar-On
AP