Wake Up, Herzog! Why Netanyahu's Challenger Is Looking Like a Lost Cause

What’s astounding about the Labor leader’s strategy is that while he can land a gut punch precisely on the decisive question - who will better protect our children? - he isn’t throwing the punch.

Olivier Fitoussi

The Zionist Union is looking like a lost cause. The chances that its leader, Isaac Herzog, will be the next prime minister are approaching zero.

If the election were held today, the polls say Benjamin Netanyahu would easily be able to form a government with the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox. That’s not because people don’t care about the hedonistic lifestyle at the prime minister’s residence but because they care much more about life itself. And that’s what will determine which ballot they put in the box.

The prime minister keeps saying he’s the only one who can protect our security, protect our children and stand up to those who rise up to destroy us. In such a situation, Bibi’s trips abroad, the garden furniture and the bottle deposits pale in importance. Life itself is in the balance here.

And it’s on this very point that Herzog is making his biggest mistake. He has left the diplomatic-security stage to Netanyahu and is focusing on socioeconomic issues. As if anyone could be persuaded to vote based on the price of Milky pudding.

Israeli prime ministers have, without exception, been elected on the basis of their diplomatic-security identity card, not on the basis of their socioeconomic positions. Because, what can you do, life takes precedence over quality of life, especially in Sparta.

Has Herzog already forgotten the resounding failure of his predecessor, Shelly Yacimovich, who ran in the last election on a socioeconomic platform?

What’s astounding about Herzog’s strategy is that he has ample opportunity to land a gut punch precisely on that decisive question: Who will better protect our children? But he isn’t throwing the punch.

Let’s start with relations with the U.S. administration. Every Israeli knows that our lives depend on our relationship with our best and only friend. Every Israeli knows that intimate ties with the U.S. president are a necessary condition for our continued existence, from the supply of sophisticated military equipment to casting vetoes at the United Nations.

But Netanyahu has destroyed our relationship with Barack Obama. He liquidated our most important strategic asset.

And it’s not just his expected speech to Congress, which is like sticking a thumb in the president’s eye. It’s also the lies he fed Obama about the sincerity of his intentions to negotiate with the Palestinians and the massive construction in the territories outside the settlement blocs.

The second security issue is Iran. Netanyahu keeps saying that he will save us from an Iranian nuclear bomb. But he’s failed.

Iran is about to become a nuclear threshold state and threaten our existence, while Netanyahu, due to his endless quarrels and disputes with Obama, has turned the president from a friend into an enemy who has no interest in taking Israel’s interests into account.

The third issue is Hamas. Netanyahu promised that he would destroy Hamas. But after 50 days of fighting in Gaza last summer, not only wasn’t Hamas destroyed, it grew stronger. Now, it is digging new tunnels and developing better missiles to prepare for the next round.

The fourth issue is our future. Every passing day increases our diplomatic isolation and endangers our very existence.

Last April Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas proposed to negotiate borders, territorial swaps and security arrangements (while leaving the issues of the refugees, Jerusalem and the right of return for the second phase).

But Netanyahu responded, “First recognize us as a Jewish state,” and thereby destroyed this chance, too. That doesn’t stop him from prating about how Israel has “no partner.”

He is thus leading us to an undemocratic binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, complete with an internal terrorist war. Or to put it more bluntly, to the end of the Zionist dream.

We go to the polls in five weeks, so Herzog has no time to spare.

But he could still change direction. He could stop talking about socioeconomic issues, abandon courtesy and politesse and hammer at the one issue that will determine the election’s outcome: life itself.