WASHINGTON – Could the next general election in Israel feature a face-off between two blocs called the Israeli Republican and Democratic parties? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates have been speaking for several weeks about his efforts to build an “Israeli Republican Party,” a bloc of right-wing and Orthodox parties that would run for the Knesset together.
Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog responded to the challenge in Washington late Monday, revealing that he intends to create a Center-Left alternative that he believes can beat Netanyahu’s bloc.
“I think I can build the Israeli Democratic party,” Herzog said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
on stage at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Washington on Monday.
“The only way to change the Israeli political scene is by joining forces with many elements together when Labor leads the camp.”
Herzog said he would not call the bloc the Democratic Party, but believes he could bring many forces together to win an election and lead.
“We will fight for our values,” he said. “More than ever our voice is needed.”
Herzog warned that if Netanyahu is once again reelected, Israel would end up becoming a binational state called “Israelstan.”
He denied reports that he was negotiating entering the prime minister’s coalition.
“Don’t expect me to hold Netanyahu’s hands,” he said. “It has nothing to do with portfolios but with where Israel is going. There is a desire by the international community to advance with the Palestinians.”
Herzog expressed hope that the commitment to the two-state solution professed by Netanyahu Monday in a meeting with US president Barack Obama will lead to actions on the prime minister’s part.
Reacting to criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry by Netanyahu’s proposed communications director Ran Baratz, the Zionist Union leader said Israel had a great friend in Kerry, who met with Herzog on Monday “There have been insulting voices from Israel from a candidate for a high position, so I wanted to tell him how we see him,” he said.
“[Kerry] wants to continue to calm tensions on the Temple Mount and restore talks with the Palestinians, and I think we should commend him for that.”
Herzog said there was a convergence of interests between Israel and Arab states, who he said share a fear of the expansion of Islamic State and the “hungry tiger of Iran that is leaving the cage.”
The crowd of thousands at the General Assembly plenary session applauded Herzog for calling for religious pluralism in Israel and for apologizing for neglecting Diaspora Jewry.
“We want to hear your voices loud and clear,” he told the crowd. “We want to listen to you, and you want to listen to us.”