Isaac Herzog speaks at the Knesset.
(photo credit: ISAAC HARARI)
It took American Jewish leaders exactly one year minus four days to exact their delayed revenge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reneging on the agreement they reached about egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall last June 25.
They were also angry at Netanyahu about the conversion issue and for taking so long to select a candidate for the Jewish Agency.
The prime minister made clear to them time and again that they were his bottom priorities, long after pleasing the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties in his coalition – and his own political survival.
So the American Jewish leaders took advantage of the new system in the World Zionist Organization bylaws that no longer requires the prime minister’s consent to pick the head of the Jewish Agency – and behaved like Israelis, using their elbows. They did not even wait for Netanyahu to make his recommendation.
They summoned Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition in the Knesset. At the prime minister’s request, they later also summoned his confidant Yuval Steinitz, who Netanyahu recommended for the post after the decision had already been made.
Steinitz was reluctant to come, unconvinced that the job was right for him. But when he did come, he made his case at length. Herzog came immediately, and after months of vigorously denying his interest in the post, accepted the job.
The question is whether as Jewish Agency chairman Herzog will remain the head of the opposition.
On the one hand, that is exactly what American Jews need right now in Israel. They need someone to stand up to the prime minister on their behalf on the issues that matter to them most. They saw how Natan Sharansky was on their side but never openly confronted Netanyahu, and they realized they needed a different approach.
But on other hand, Herzog is the last man who will burn bridges. He likes working behind the scenes and using his personal skills and connections to get things done quietly.
Herzog has maintained excellent relations with Netanyahu, even as he criticized him from the Knesset podium. He might not be ready to lead public campaigns against the prime minister, even if they might become necessary.
The presidential election of 2021 beckons for Herzog, whose father, Chaim, was Israel’s sixth president. The agency chairmanship could be a good launching pad for the post, or it could be a place where he is forgotten when the time comes for the Knesset to select its candidate.
Herzog’s behavior as chairman of the Jewish Agency could determine whether other politicians will fight for him when he needs them, or whether they will turn the tables on him and exact their delayed revenge against him – like American Jewish leaders have just done to Netanyahu.