As opposition leader, MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) is supposed to present an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, but Herzog takes it a step beyond. Even Herzog’s assessment of the root causes of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is almost a 180-degree change from Netanyahu’s analysis.
For weeks, the prime minister has been saying that the reason young Palestinians have been stabbing Israeli civilians throughout the country is because, at their core, they are unable to accept the State of Israel or any Jewish presence in this part of the world.
Herzog, however, told The Jerusalem Post
recently that he “differs from the prime minister’s Holocaust/Iran/living-on- your-sword” rhetoric, and is “sure, quite convinced, that most of the Arab world realizes Israel is here to stay.”
“Most Palestinians know we’re here to stay. Terrorists want to derail that, but there’s a silent majority. We can use that and move on – cautiously – but we must move on,” he stated.
The Zionist Union chairman tried to dispel pessimism about peace by pointing out that crazier things have happened.
“Had you told an Israeli 40 years ago, after the Yom Kippur War, that [former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat would give a speech in the Knesset, he would think you were crazy. If you had told someone in Auschwitz that, 70 years later, the Germans would be our allies, he would think you were crazy,” he said.
According to Herzog, Netanyahu trades solely on fear. “I don’t accept it at all,” he said.
“There is no foreseeable political solution to the conflict, which leads to an atmosphere of bitterness and frustration coupled with brainwashing by hateful Muslim instigators, and the result is what we see today,” Herzog explained.
The correct response to terrorism is security measures, but they must come with diplomatic action, Herzog posited, which would change that atmosphere.
“There has to be a way to lead to a certain horizon that will give hope to both peoples. The silent majority on both sides wants peace,” he stated.
At the same time, Herzog does not deny that hatred of Israel and the Jewish people is an element in the current wave of violence, and he admitted to being horrified at the incitement against Israelis that he has seen.
“It’s hard to understand the roots of the behavior of a young boy or adult who takes a bus for two hours knowing he’s going to die, not thinking about how he will hurt his family, because he was brainwashed to think Jews are conquering al-Aksa Mosque,” he said, calling for hands-on measures to limit inciting messages on social media.
Herzog also said he was “extremely disturbed” to find that educational materials in east Jerusalem schools include incitement against Israel, pointing out that they are supposed to be under the control of the Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry.
“If you don’t believe we should regulate these schools, say so, that you don’t think Isawiya is part of Jerusalem.
If you don’t believe that, do something about it. We need to be more proactive in those areas,” he added.
What Herzog believes is “we need to separate the two peoples: Israeli Arabs are part and parcel of Israel and Palestinians should be separate, as part of a two-state solution.”
THERE’S ONE thing on which Herzog and Netanyahu seem to agree – the necessity of maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Herzog cited a ruling by his grandfather and namesake, former chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, to make his case.
In 1948, when the Hagana was planning to liberate the Old City of Jerusalem – an effort that ultimately failed – the Hagana’s commander in Jerusalem, David Shaltiel, sought Rabbi Herzog’s advice, recounts a letter to MK Herzog from Rabbi Zalman Menachem Koren, who has researched and written extensively about the Temple and its former location on the Mount.
Rabbi Herzog instructed Shaltiel to have his soldiers ascend the Temple Mount, remove all enemy forces, leave the compound as soon as possible and seal it off, so that no person may enter – to “lock the place up and throw away the key,” MK Herzog said.
“Rabbis throughout the ages, from Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook onward, strictly prohibited going up on the Temple Mount. And now there is a minority group of rabbis encouraging Jews to go,” Herzog said. “Even Jewish residents of the Old City oppose it, because they understand the sensitivity, aside from the halachic issues.”
Herzog said that while he supports maintaining the freedom for all people to visit the Temple Mount, activists who visit and encourage others to do so are “hypocritical,” because “even the strictest religious Zionist yeshivas oppose it.”
When asked why in this case the Zionist Union leader supports following rabbinate policy, while in others – civil unions, for example – he doesn’t, Herzog said that holy sites are a different situation.
“I never argued against the position of the Chief Rabbinate on holy sites, including the Western Wall,” he added, saying that 15 years ago he helped come up with the compromise for the Women of the Wall to pray by Robinson’s Arch, instead of the main plaza – an idea that the group later rejected.
In addition, Herzog said the Temple Mount is, during this current wave of terrorism, a matter of life and death.
“I’m amazed at the carelessness of [Agriculture Minister] Uri Ariel [of Bayit Yehudi] going there to say the Priestly Blessing. We have to be responsible in what we say as leaders.
As leaders, we have to prevent actions that can have consequences we don’t understand,” he said.
Israel is “in a sea of hundreds of millions of Muslims and we have to be careful,” said Herzog, warning that “our enemies are using [Temple Mount visits] to distort reality.”
The Temple Mount is “the most important place for all of us, but we have to be cautious and smart,” he said.
The opposition leader commended the government for its “forceful” actions on the Mount “to keep out extreme elements like the Islamic Movement [northern branch] and the Morabitat, and to enable the Wakf to stabilize the situation.”
HERZOG ALSO spoke out against anti- Israel trends in the West.
Though he is a staunch supporter of a two-state solution, Herzog said: “I object vehemently to settlement product labeling.”
The opposition leader spoke as Israel anticipated the imminent publication of the European Union’s guidelines on the consumer labeling of Israeli products produced in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, which Brussels calls “settlement products.”
“I think the people who will pay the real price for labeling are the tens of thousands of Palestinians who enjoy income and social benefits, and will be thrown out of work,” he explained.
The Zionist Union chairman recounted telling world leaders that he meets that settlement labeling is “adverse to peace,” in that it has “no bearing on the real truth, which requires both leaders to start talking, for heaven’s sake, and move forward.”
Another “strategic threat” to Israel, according to Herzog, is the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.
“I appear all over the world defending my nation and people. I talk about our democracy and its values, including a free press. Our Supreme Court is the strongest arm of our government, which is a source of pride,” he said. “We have to shatter the lie and remind everybody of our just cause in this land.”
Herzog expressed concern about a younger generation, further away from the Holocaust, that does not understand “the gist and the real story of our nation-state of the Jewish people.”
“We have to keep reminding everyone of this, but we also have to be smart and show that we believe in coexistence between Jews and Arabs in this country,” he stated.
A coordinated effort with other countries can quash BDS, Herzog said, but the onus is on the government to change its policies for such an effort to be effective.
The opposition leader explained that Israel’s allies are saying “help us help you,” and “they want to see initiatives on the Palestinian issue. They want us to be proactive and not just stand by.”
Herzog said that there is currently a “golden opportunity” to work with allies in the Middle East against ISIS and Iran.
“We have a rare convergence of interests that can serve as a benchmark in cooperation on strategic issues and intelligence, and, surprise surprise, Palestinian issues. It can reignite the process and change the region. Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] is missing the opportunity,” Herzog lamented.
The current government is pulled away from talking to the Palestinians by the “settler lobby,” for political reasons, he posited.
“There is a lack of clarity on its policies. One day Netanyahu talks about freezing settlements, and the next about growth,” he said. “This coalition is totally right-wing. Everything is their responsibility; they don’t have anyone else to blame.”
The Zionist Union leader said the coalition’s days are numbered. “A 61- seat coalition is a hung coalition. It’s more homogeneous than the previous one, but it has its own weaknesses, which will bring it to an end. I hope we will be able to lead Israel in a different direction.”
Herzog denied the rumors that seem to rise and fall every few weeks that he is about to join the coalition and make it less right-wing.
“I’m not here to get another position in the government, which will prove to be futile,” he stated.
“I believe Israel is moving in the wrong direction, and I’m extremely worried about its wellbeing. I think Netanyahu’s policies, lack of initiative and lack of leadership are dangerous for Israel. I am doing whatever I can as leader of the opposition to replace him and change his government,” he added.
Even if Netanyahu launches another round of talks with the Palestinians, Herzog said he would not join the coalition.
“If Netanyahu goes for a historic change… he knows we will be responsible. I know how to show support – like I did [in opposing] the Iran deal – from the opposition,” he said.
Herzog once again called on Netanyahu to take the initiative and negotiate with the Palestinians.
“Stop looking at political considerations and be bold, as history requires from a leader. We will know how to back you if you do that,” Herzog said.
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