Left vs. Left: Isaac Herzog and Gideon Levy Duke It Out

In a series of opposing op-eds, opposition leader Herzog and veteran Haaretz commentator Levy get to the heart of the differences within the Israeli left.

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Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, left, and Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, right.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, left, and Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, right.Credit: Ofer Vaknin, Tomer Appelbaum

19 August

Levy began the exchange with a critique of Isaac Herzog’s tone after the opposition leader’s visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Herzog’s “strong man” rhetoric about his extreme commitment to the war against terror, argued Levy, was vacuous at best and at worst, legitimized the right’s “foolish” notion that a third intifada can be prevented by force. Leave the scare tactics to the likes of Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, or even former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, said Levy. What this country needs is a radical change of direction.

“It sounds so funny,” concluded Levy, “and it’s so sad.”

21 August

Herzog responded, bristling at Levy’s accusation of cliché when Levy himself “has been singing the same song for years, publishing the same article and the same text, twice and sometimes three times a week Levy has been a one-trick pony since way back in the 1990s.”

Herzog wrote that leaders today have a different set of options than those of the nineties – ISIS, Hamas, Iran – all of these groups have led Herzog and the camp he represents to embrace the tough talk.

“Only when I and the leadership of the huge camp I represent prove that in defense of the country, on security issues and in times of danger, we always side with the state will we be able to win the trust of the majority in Israel.”

“Levy used to be a Zionist,” wrote Herzog. “I’m no longer sure that he is one.”

23 August

The gauntlet had been thrown. Levy took it up, proudly acknowledging the “one trick pony” label as a badge of honor and shooting back with his own endearment for the Zionist Union leader: “Rambo Herzog, the fighter of terror.” In snide sarcasm, Levy apologized for “boring” Herzog by harping on the occupation.

“I’ve been trying to report on its crimes for 30 years or so. It’s an obsession of sorts: A person is convinced that his country has a malignant disease and that no issue is more crucial,” wrote Levy. “I’m sorry if that bores Herzog, but it’s a cruel reality for millions of people. It’s the reality that hasn’t changed, not the person writing about it.”

Levy detailed the many iterative solutions to the occupation he has believed in over the years, from “the Jordanian option” to Oslo to, now, boycotts and a “single democratic state.”

Herzog and his ilk, suggested Levy, had better work to end the occupation if they expect writers like Levy to stop writing about it.

26 August

Herzog turned the tables in his second response to Levy within a week, calling the writer a fear-mongering messianic closer politically to the likes of Uri Ariel (or even Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh) than the Israeli left.

“In his article, Levy suggests that we turn out the lights on the Zionist project,” wrote Herzog. “Levy doesn’t have to join Habayit Hayehudi. He can easily skip over the party headed by Naftali Bennett and land straight in the lap of Uri Ariel’s Tekuma. Ariel wants the same thing — one state from the Jordan to the sea and one man, one vote, and may the best man win.”

The pragmatic camp that Herzog represents, alternatively, aspires for security for Israel as well as for Palestinians.

“And today there is a window of opportunity for an agreement, both regional and vis-a-vis the Palestinians, that must not be missed,” he wrote. “It’s an opportunity not only for negotiations, but for a real agreement.”

27 August

In the last installment of the open correspondence so far, Levy wrote to Herzog that the only thing he himself has in common with Ariel is “the vast gulf between us,” noting that the agriculture minister’s vision of a united Israel is anything but democratic. It is Herzog, Levy wrote, who stands on Ariel’s side of the line.

“If you scrape off the layers of makeup, you’ll find within him the same nationalist foundation; the belief that in this land there is one nation with inborn privileges that exceed those of the other nation living here,” wrote Levy. “It starts with the Law of Return, which is for Jews alone; and winds through “security needs,” which are always only the security needs of the Jews, and ends with the demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized; it all screams of privilege.”

The choice, says Levy, is simple: Israel can choose to be a democracy first or a Jewish state first – everything else is petty bickering.

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