(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog vowed to fight to clear his name and save his political career Tuesday amid calls for him to suspend himself if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit orders police to upgrade its initial probe of alleged campaign fund-raising violations into a full criminal investigation.
Despite rampant rumors that the police have requested the Justice Ministry to convert the initial review of Herzog-related issues to a full criminal investigation, including questioning him under caution, the Attorney- General’s Office adamantly refused to confirm or deny the reports. The refusal to respond was unusual, as the reports have gotten specific, including mentioning that Mandelblit, head State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, and the head of police investigations will meet in the coming days to decide what steps they will take next.
The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel sent a letter Tuesday to Herzog asking him to resign or suspend himself from his public roles due to the investigation.
The letter said that he would not be able to properly function as opposition leader and leader of the large Zionist Union party while he faced down questions about alleged criminality.
Typically public officials do not resign until they have been indicted. But Zionist Union MKs Miki Rosenthal and Eyal Ben-Reuven both indicated in radio interviews Tuesday that they would expect Herzog to suspend himself if there is a full investigation with serious charges.
Channel 2 reported Tuesday that the allegations involving Herzog are connected to Rina Ramot, who funded a strategist on his behalf to conduct opposition research against MK Shelly Yacimovich in the 2013 labor primaries. Allegedly there was a quid pro quo of funding for the opposition research in exchange for Herzog helping to push for Knesset reforms which would help her nursing company, Matan, though Ramot has denied the allegations.
Herzog responded to the allegations by vowing to overcome the charges against him and every other obstacle en route to leading his party to power. Speaking at a pre-Passover toast hosted by MK Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv, Herzog said he is “completely calm” and gave no indication that he is considering suspending himself from any of his posts.
“It is part of the role of a leader to deal with libels that come out,” Herzog said. “I will go wherever necessary, answer every question, claim, and slanderous accusation and put this saga behind us.”
That comment was significant, because when Herzog was questioned in another campaign fund raising scandal in 1999 he chose to remain silent.
Peretz told the crowd he believes in Herzog’s innocence, and he vowed to give Herzog any support he needs to prove that he has not broken the law. But his rally was seen as a show of force and an indication that he will try to return to his former post as head of the Labor Party.
Yacimovich came out against forcing Herzog to suspend himself, saying that she trusts him to make the right decision at the right time. But she hinted that she may issue such a call soon and stressed that she would be saying more if the charges were not related to alleged wrongdoing in an election against her.
“At this point, when there has been no formal request by the attorney-general on opening a criminal investigation, it is not right to push Herzog and make haphazard decisions,” Yacimovich said.
“There is no doubt that these are not golden days for the party, to say the least. It is not a private matter for Herzog but a shadow that is cast on all of us.”
Channel 10 reported on an initiative by opponents of Yacimovich in Labor to make MK Eitan Cabel the temporary chairman of the party if Herzog suspends himself and delay the party’s leadership race until Herzog’s legal situation is clarified.