When the Labor Party held its leadership election in 2007, it was clear to all that the reigning chairman, Amir Peretz, didn’t have a prayer. I remember betting on the results with him. After the contest, everyone remembered the bet differently, but Peretz admitted on looking back that he didn’t really think he had a chance of winning.
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If Peretz would have given up on that lost cause and joined Ami Ayalon as his No. 2 in the first round, Ayalon almost certainly would have captured the Labor leadership, Ehud Barak would have gone back to being a jet-setter, and Israeli politics would possibly look entirely different. Peretz simply wasn’t capable of yielding his birthright. He was willing to go 900,000 shekels in personal debt to run, and was forced to mortgage his home to repay his debts.
Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog is worth 15 Knesset seats, according to the latest Channel 1 poll, nine fewer than his party won in the last election. He is on the same path of humiliation that Peretz traveled. Back-bencher MK Michal Biran disrupted Herzog’s closed-door meeting and refused to leave; party activist Amnon Zilberman tried to break up a conference where he was delivering a speech; an MK and former close ally of his, Erel Margalit, distributed a film of himself flexing his muscles in front of the chairman during a closed-door meeting of the Labor leadership.
It’s a shame about Herzog. He really is a relatively fair-minded politician, and fully capable. He does not deserve this. But an entire camp wants a candidate who will challenge Benjamin Netanyahu, not a good boy who does his best.
Herzog has a few options. One, he could try to join the government at any price to become foreign minister or rehabilitate his position from within. However, the chance of him getting Labor into the government is shrinking. After all the insults he hurled at Netanyahu, and given his political weakness, even the attempt to enter the government could turn him from being the good boy who failed into the power-hungry bastard who deceived us all.
Another way for him is to try to survive. It is hard to conceive how this miracle will happen. Along the way he will make a mockery of himself by taking a political path he does not believe in. Netanyahu, Yisrael Katz, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid and Yaakov Peri announced that they support a strange, inhumane bill that demands the deportation of the families of terrorists. Herzog was compelled to shut up. He dares not object, and it looks like his conscience will not allow him to “rise” to the Zionist level of Lapid. In any event, Lapid is taking away seats from Herzog, not because of a move to the center but rather because no one can imagine Herzog as prime minister.
The third possibility is imaginary, and the chances that Herzog will choose it are negligible, but still. Just imagine a situation in which Herzog turns to someone like Gabi Ashkenazi and tells him, Stop the ceaseless indecision. I know you fear living in this impossible party, but I have lived in it for 25 years and I will make sure to get you at least one fair chance. The moment this happens, an alternative to Netanyahu’s regime will be created.
Three days after Ehud Barak won the Labor leadership primary, a secret consultation was held in the home of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Defense Minister Peretz was inside. An operation of historic proportions was on the agenda. The aides were told not to interrupt and not to enter for any reason. Still, the consultation was interrupted. An urgent fax arrived from Barak, those present were told. Barak, it turned out, wrote Peretz that he was demanding that he immediately evacuate the defense minister’s seat. He was not prepared to wait another hour. If Herzog wants to save himself such humiliation, he had better act differently than Peretz did in 2007.