Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Know the Next Possible Israeli Prime
Yitzhak Herzog, Labor Party Leader
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 15, 2014
Can the Duke become King?
the 19th Knesset voted to dissolve itself, less than two years after its
election. For many of its members it was a sad day, a kind of political
hara-kiri. They have no chance of re-election. Some of them are so
forgettable, that I do not recognize their names or faces.
after, a political bomb exploded on the TV news. Channel 10 – slightly
more liberal than the two others - published the results of a
quick public opinion poll by a respected pollster.
THE FIRST result was that the Labor Party, after its union
with Tzipi Livni's "the Movement", will be the largest party in the next
Israelis gasped. What? Labor? A party seen by many as
Of course, this is only the first of hundreds of
polls to come before election day, March 17 2015. Yet the results had their
impact. (Two other polls since then confirmed its findings.)
second result was that Likud, in second place, would get exactly the same
number of seats whether led by Binyamin Netanyahu or by his putative
challenger, Gideon Sa'ar, an unglamorous party functionary (and a former
employee of mine). As Interior Minister, he excelled mainly in persecuting
African asylum-seekers. (At the last moment, Sa'ar gave up his challenge to
Is it possible? Netanyahu the Great, the "King Bibi" of
Time magazine, no longer a vote magnet?
Ya'ir Lapid, the hero of the
last elections, shrunk to half his size. Like the gourd in the Book of
Jonah, "which came up in a night and perished in a night".
real sensation of the poll was something else: though Netanyahu still headed
the list of preferred candidates for Prime Minister, Yitzhak Herzog, the
leader of Labor, came so close as to make no difference.
month ago, such a result would have appeared a hilarious hoax. At that time,
Netanyahu had an unassailable lead, towering over all the dwarfs around.
Conventional wisdom had it that "there is no one else".
is. Herzog! Herzog?
HERZOG IS the German word for duke.
Yitzhak, commonly called Buji (that's what his mother called him when he was
small), is indeed of aristocratic origin.
His grandfather, Yitzhak
Herzog (after whom he was named, according to the Jewish tradition), was the
Chief Rabbi of Ireland. He had such a good reputation that he was called in
the 30s to become the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine. He was considered
His son, Chaim, studied in England,
excelled as a boxer and joined the British army in World War II. He was
serving as an intelligence officer in Egypt when he met Susan Ambash, the
daughter of a rich local Jewish family.
The two Ambash girls were
sent on Saturdays to the synagogue to fetch Jewish officers and bring them
home for the Shabbat meal. On one Shabbat they caught two – one Chaim Herzog
and one Aubrey (Abba) Eban. They married them.
In the 1948 war,
Chaim Herzog joined the new Israeli Army as an intelligence officer,
eventually becoming a general and chief of army intelligence. On leaving the
army he founded what became the largest and richest law firm in the country.
But his real days of glory came on the eve of the Six-day War. For
three weeks, Israel fell victim to an attack of acute anxiety. Some spoke of
the coming Second Holocaust. During that period, General Herzog had a daily
program on the radio and succeeded in soothing the public mind with his
sober, sensible analysis, neither belittling nor exaggerating the danger
The people rewarded him with the presidency of the state. In
this post, he was more British than Israeli. An example: at a time when I
was boycotted by all the heads of the establishment, I was surprised by an
invitation to a private dinner with him at the presidential residence. We
had a pleasant talk, without any particular subject. He just wanted to get
to know me.
I used the opportunity to plead for his intervention in
the security arrangements at Ben Gurion airport, where Arab citizens were
(and are) routinely singled out and searched in a humiliating manner. (He
promised, but nothing much came of it.)
By the way, I had a similar
dinner with his brother, Ya'acov, then the Director General of the Prime
Minister's office. Of the two brothers, Ya'acov was considered the
outstanding intellect. Then as now I was preaching the two-state solution,
which at the time was totally rejected in Israel and around the world. Over
dinner, Ya'acov said he would like to hear my arguments for this solution
and cross-examined me – again, a more British than Israeli attitude. Senior
Israeli officials do not talk with people of the radical opposition.
YITZHAK HERZOG also served in army intelligence before he was appointed
cabinet secretary. Joining the Labor party, like his father, he became a
member of the Knesset and minister in several minor ministries.
Slightly built, blue eyed, with a fair complexion, Herzog (54) looks more
British than Israeli. He speaks softly, expresses himself in a moderate way
and has no enemies. He is the very opposite of the typical Israeli
He surprised everybody when he beat one of these for
the chairmanship of the Labor Party. Sheli Yachimovitch is strident,
outspoken and belligerent, a resolute socialist who does not hesitate to
tread on people's toes. She antagonized too many colleagues and was voted
out. Buji became leader of the party and automatically "Leader of the
Opposition", a title and status accorded by law to the chief of the largest
(One of the little jokes of politics: Herzog was
about to lose his title and the perks associated with it when Netanyahu
dismissed Lapid, whose Knesset faction is larger than Labor. Since the
Knesset dissolved itself, Lapid does not inherit the title.)
ASSUMING THE party leadership, Herzog lost no time in declaring himself a
candidate for prime minister. This was generally met with a tolerant smile.
Now, for the first time, this seems just possible. Not likely, by
any means. But the impossible has become possible. The unthinkable,
This in itself is a revolution.
During the last
years, Israeli media have been obsessed with the idea that "Israel is moving
to the right". That Netanyahu, bad as he is, is preferable to those who will
inevitably succeed him – outright fascists, warmongers, Arab-eaters.
It was almost fashionable to declare that the Left is finished, dead,
deceased. Among commentators, it has become de rigeur, especially among
leftists, to heap scorn on the Left and the remaining leftists. Poor guys
(and gals, of course). Can't see what's going on. Harbor illusions.
Whistling in the gathering darkness.
And suddenly there is a chance
– a remote chance, but a chance nevertheless – for the Left to regain
WHY? WHAT has happened?
The easiest explanation is
that people just got fed up with "Bibi". Netanyahu is a person it is easy to
get fed up with. In fact, it has happened to him before. His wife, Sarah'le,
who is universally disliked, does not help.
But, I believe, it goes
much deeper. The poll shows that the Likud will not fare better with another
chief candidate. Has the Likud lost its touch?
Two factors have
contributed to this:
First, Moshe Kahlon. A former typical Likud
stalwart, popular among his peers, he suddenly left his party. No reason
As Minister of Communications, a very minor ministry, Kahlon
had become immensely popular. He took on the tycoons of the mobile phone
industry, broke their monopoly, instituted competition and cut prices by
half. Since it is difficult to imagine a young Israeli – male or female –
without a mobile phone stuck to their ear, he became a hero.
Kahlon, two months younger than Herzog, has announced that he is creating a
new party. It is to be called "Kulanu" ("We All"). Though it still has
no candidates, it already emerges in the poll with 10 seats – mostly
supported by former Likud voters.
This is hugely significant, for
several reasons. First, the basic electorate of Likud consists of oriental
Jews, though Menachem Begin, Netanyahu and most of their colleagues were and
are Ashkenazi. Kahlon is as oriental as you get: His parents came from
Tripoli in Libya, they have seven children, Moshe grew up in a poor
Breaking the Likud hold on the oriental
community is extremely important. Especially as Kahlon cites Begin as the
leader who gave up the entire Sinai peninsula for peace with Egypt. His
"moderate Likud" could change the entire balance between Right and
Center-Left in the next Knesset. And that, after all, is what counts.
The second reason : Bennett's extreme right-wing religious-nationalist (some
say fascist) "Jewish Home" party is gaining strength – also gaining votes
from Likud. Naftali Bennett, smooth, amiable, with the smallest kippah on
earth on his head, is appealing to secular voters too.
Traditionally, the Orthodox parties hold the key. Since they care neither
for Left or Right and are beholden to no one but themselves, they can
For a long time, they were the allies of Labor. For the
last few decades, they were automatic allies of the Right. After the last
elections, Netanyahu dropped them for the ultra-secular Lapid. Now they are
ready for revenge. Since Herzog is the grandson of a chief Rabbi, he is
HERZOG WON his first success of the current campaign by
forming a common list with Tzipi Livni. It is now up to him to keep up the
momentum and make alliances with – possibly – Lapid, Kahlon and Meretz. If
successful in the elections, he must stretch out his hands to the Orthodox
and the Arabs.
Last week I sketched out this vision. This week it
has advanced by a small but significant step towards realization.
Can the duke become king? Well, that's what the history books tell us.