(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A political cartoon in Ma’ariv on Sunday depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snickering to Isaac Herzog that the best gift he ever received was having him as opposition leader.
But that cartoon may have spoken too soon, just like the countless political eulogies of Herzog over the past year. It may even be time to question the conventional wisdom that the only possible alternatives to the Likud leader in the next election are Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who is doing well in the polls, or a former IDF chief of staff.
Since that cartoon’s publication, Herzog has scored a number of important political victories. His candidate, Eran Hermoni, defeated former Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich’s former political adviser Yair “Yaya” Fink for Labor secretary-general, a key post once held by David Ben-Gurion.
Retired generals Yom-Tov Samia, Amiram Levine and Danny Arditi announced that they had joined Labor, following former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay, proving that the party is still alive and well.
Herzog hosted former prime minister Ehud Barak at a Labor Party event, the first attended by Barak since he split the party six years ago. At the event, it was clear that Herzog was in charge, and Barak said that he was not running for Labor leader, though he added “at this stage” just in case.
Finally, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday closed the corruption case against Herzog without indictment. Allegations had been made that Herzog accepted illegal contributions during the 2013 Labor primaries, failed to report the contributions and filed a false declaration about them.
In late March, Mandelblit initiated a probe into alleged fund-raising violations by Herzog in his campaign against Yacimovich. He was questioned under caution multiple times about alleged campaign fund-raising violations in April, after which the police recommended closing the case.
The acquittal came at a key time for Herzog, who can now freely attack Netanyahu without anyone saying that he, too, is being investigated.
With at least three investigations intensifying, Netanyahu is more vulnerable than ever, and no one knows who the Likud’s candidate in the next election will be.
Political attention will now shift to the Labor primary set for July. If in the past it was assumed that the primary would be delayed for a third time in order to allow a former general to run, with Netanyahu looking so weak, the race cannot be postponed again.
That means that in the next couple of months, decisions will have to be made about who is running and who will be sitting out the race. Will Yacimovich run even after losing her chance to control the party’s administration through her handpicked secretary-general, who could have helped her win? Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will not be able to run because his three-year cooling off period is not yet over. Barak and another former IDF chief, Moshe Ya’alon, are also not running. That leaves only one former IDF chief: Gabi Ashkenazi, whom a recent Ma’ariv poll showed could win a lot more seats for Labor than Herzog.
Had Herzog been the political corpse he was thought to be and had Amir Peretz been faring poor in the polls, perhaps Ashkenazi would be pushed to throw his beret in the ring. But Peretz has received encouraging polls, and Ashkenazi is indebted to him because he appointed him chief of staff.
MK Erel Margalit, who has a seemingly endless supply of money and a no-holdsbarred political strategy, could pose a serious threat to Herzog.
But Herzog is alive and well and looking a lot better than he did in that cartoon on Sunday.