Isaac Herzog’s Nerves Would Stymie Him as Prime Minister

I’ll take the Labor Party leader any day over Benjamin Netanyahu, not that Herzog has the guts to take a risk.

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Labor leader Isaac Herzog speaks at Kibbutzim College in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015.
Labor leader Isaac Herzog speaks at Kibbutzim College in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Is Labor Party chief Isaac Herzog the right man to be prime minister? On the one hand, it seems a prime minister chosen by lottery would do a better job than the incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu. On the other hand, is Herzog the stuff of a prime minister?

The fear that Netanyahu will be reelected is cushioning Herzog nicely. Most media outlets apparently don’t want to ruin the chance of bringing down Netanyahu, so we haven’t seen one serious profile of Herzog as a candidate for the premiership.

Herzog was a successful minister, both at the Tourism Ministry and the Social Affairs Ministry. He’s an excellent politician; everybody’s friend. He knows how to build a coalition and has close links to journalists, the wealthy and the heads of social-welfare groups. It’s hard to find someone who disagrees with him.

In a speech to the Saban Forum, he juggled Israel’s Reform Jews and Israel’s Iran policy. He’s creative in negotiations; just give him a reasonable chance to put together a cabinet and he’ll make a cocktail that Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Meretz’s Zehava Galon can live with, not to mention the ultra-Orthodox parties.

But stomach-churning questions remain. When was the last time Herzog took a position on an issue his political base didn’t like? He was in the cabinet during the Second Lebanon War and made no mark. He sat for years in the governments of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu and never considered committing political suicide on any issue. Suicide? He didn’t even challenge the prime minister on a matter of principle.

And more worrisome: How does he stand up under pressure? Can he, or must he, please everyone all the time? (Well, maybe he made some progress here by tapping economist Manuel Trajtenberg as his finance minister, irking top Laborites Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit.)

Herzog is a man under pressure by nature, not to say hysterical. People who work with him witness these slight hysterias, sometimes over small matters. That’s his nature.

Sometimes this is very human, like when he came down from the stage after his victory speech in the race to be Labor chairman. He told his wife he almost fainted 10 times. Sometimes it’s frightening to imagine this man heading fateful discussions.

His position on banning Arab MK Haneen Zoabi from the election changed three times or so. And he couldn’t fire some of the people who managed his embarrassing campaign; after all, they put up a fuss.

And when asked if he would take part in a televised debate without Netanyahu present, he started with “yes,” went to “no” and wound up refusing to respond. Ah yes, he also caved to the co-leader of Zionist Union, Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni. He agreed to rotate the premiership.

There’s also stuff in the more-distant past. In 2007, Ehud Barak wanted Herzog to support him in the race to be Labor Party chairman. Barak abused him, mixed him up in an NGO affair and destroyed the party along the way. Herzog didn’t want to, but he gave in to the pressure.

And recently, he headed the campaign to make Labor’s Benjamin Ben-Eliezer president. Herzog knew exactly who Ben-Eliezer was; there were times he suspected that Ben-Eliezer had been involved in criminal acts.

You can’t take away Herzog’s enormous drive. There are actually two Herzogs. He’s in a meeting and he’s texting, answering a second phone and holding a small conversation on the side — every day all day for decades. He’s so nice that people don’t understand how much he’s willing to put in to get where he wants to be. But what will he do once he gets there?

I’ll take him any day over Netanyahu; I even prefer Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon or Gideon Sa’ar if it’s our fate to be ruled by the right. But anyone who dreams that Herzog will evacuate settlers, sign a permanent agreement with the Palestinians or establish a constitution had better wake up.

Raviv Drucker is a reporter for Channel 10 television.

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