'Two can be as bad as one," Three Dog Night sang
in their 1969 hit song. "It's the loneliest number since the number
one." The song certainly wasn't written with politicians in mind, but
it might as well have been. Case in point: The number two men in
Kadima, Labor and Likud appear to be nearly as lonely politically as
the number ones in their parties.
Shaul Mofaz, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar are all bright, ambitious and have
strong leadership qualities. They just each have one thing in the way:
Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu respectively.
Over the past 10 days, each of the three number twos flexed
their political muscles in some way, making it clear that they are
forces that cannot be ignored in the near future. But they are all in
different points in their lives and careers, and their strategies for
ascending to the leadership of their party and the Prime Minister's
Office could not be more different.
Mofaz escalated his attack on Livni with a rally on Thursday
night in which he and hundreds of his supporters called for advancing
Kadima's leadership race. Herzog made news when he publicly blamed
Barak for Labor rebel Ophir Paz-Pines quitting the Knesset. And Sa'ar,
who had made a point of giving interviews only about education since
the coalition was formed, noticeably returned to talking about
The most overtly ambitious of the three is Mofaz,
who at 61 is already running for the leadership of a party for the
third time. He was scarred by his poorly staged shift to Kadima in the
midst of his campaign for Likud leader and by his failure to
immediately challenge the questionable results of the September 2008
Mofaz has tried to transform his image as a rightist with a
dull personality by coming out with a dovish peace plan, smiling more
and getting photographed doing yoga. In what is the dream of any
politician, he does not have to worry about funding or limiting what he
can say, thanks to rich Persian Jews in the US and his no holds barred
strategy for challenging Livni.
liabilities include that he is not as popular in the general public as
he is in his party, and that after seven years as IDF chief of General
Staff and defense minister, he is used to being in charge and has
forgotten how to be subordinate.
"Being number two automatically makes you impatient to be
number one, because you constantly remember that you aren't number
one," a source close to Mofaz said. "His problem is not that he is
number two. It's that Livni is number one. If the number one in his
party was an amazing leader or if the party were part of the
government, maybe he would have acted differently."
Mofaz's attacks on Livni have become increasingly fierce in
recent days. He blamed her for all the country's woes and vowed to not
rest until a date for a rematch against her was advanced from its
current date in 2013.
"When I see the damage she did to the country and the party, I
can't sit quietly," he said, never referring to Livni by name. "She
made wrong decisions at every junction. We could have been a serious
player in the government. The state is suffering from Kadima not being
in the coalition, and so is the party. I will push for primaries every
week until she finally agrees."
Herzog also wants to expedite the leadership race in his party,
which is currently set for October 2012. But unlike Mofaz, he has
resisted the temptation to burn bridges.
The Labor rebels continue to court Herzog to lead a split in
the party and out of the coalition. But he has turned them down thus
far, because he believes that Netanyahu genuinely wants to lead a peace
process, and because he likes his current job in which he is helping
improve the lives of the country's most disadvantaged people.
Herzog, 49, turned down a promotion to a more prestigious
portfolio when the government was formed, even though it could have
forestalled his political ascension. Barak's behavior toward his
formerly loyal aide has changed since Herzog won the second spot on
Labor's list and presented himself as Barak's heir apparent, a notion
further emboldened by Pines-Paz leaving the party.
Barak angered Herzog when he tried to pass a new constitution
for Labor that Herzog considered dictatorial, and when Barak appointed
himself as Labor's representative on the Ministerial Ethics Committee
instead of Herzog. After multiple scandals erupted that questioned
Barak's ethics, Herzog had a hard time remaining silent, but he did
until Paz-Pines left last week.
"It's up to our generation to determine whether the party has a
chance to renew itself and stand on its feet again," Herzog said, in a
direct challenge to Barak.
That prompted Barak's office to issue a statement criticizing
Herzog for the first time, saying that his shift from Paz-Pines critic
to defender illustrated that he lacked the traits necessary to lead.
Herzog told The Jerusalem Post this week that he has
pleaded with Barak to present a recovery plan for the party that
includes a date for advancing its leadership race. He said that Barak
cannot count on him to remain in the government at any price.
"If I see no peace process develop, I will initiate the
internal party procedures for leaving the coalition," he said. "The
situation in my party is so disturbing that it haunts me. I believe in
Labor's ideology and I still want to give the party a chance. But
people tell me that if I wait three years, I might not have a party
left. We may find ourselves competing in a race over a dead body."
The only one of the three number twos who has not and will not
threaten his party's leader is Sa'ar. At 43, he is the youngest of the
three, and he is a minister for the first time. But sources close to
him said he wants to be prime minister immediately after Netanyahu, and
he might be even more ambitious than Mofaz.
Sa'ar has become very close to the top journalists in the
Hebrew press, who he regularly updates. Every move he makes has been
calculated politically, including his recent move to the center of the
political map, his refusal to condemn the settlement freeze and his
defense of Netanyahu.
started off his tenure as education minister with humanizing interviews
together with his daughters. He has used the job to advance so-called
motherhood-and-apple-pie issues like Zionism, Hebrew and school
uniforms. Even in his recent return to discussing diplomatic issues, he
has stuck with consensus topics like defending Israel from American
pressure and questioning the Palestinian leadership's desire for peace.
Sa'ar told the Post
he did not let winning the second slot on the Likud list get to his
head. He declined to criticize the impatience of Mofaz and Herzog, but
he stressed that he was handling being number two differently.
"The other number twos have declared they want to be number
one," Saar said. "I don't feel that because I got chosen where I did
that I must start working immediately to get one step higher. I am
satisfied with where I am right now."