Isaac Herzog 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Labor’s new leader Isaac (Buji) Herzog’s victory late last week over incumbent
Shelly Yacimovich for the leadership of the Labor party took many by surprise.
In hindsight, the upset was in large degree a result of Yacimovich’s failed
leadership style. She was aggressive and strong-willed and, because she is a
woman, these traits, which might have been seen as an asset in a man, tended to
alienate and arouse resentment among her male colleagues in Labor.
was more than that. The lion’s share of her impressive political drive was
fueled primarily by her left-wing socioeconomic convictions and her passion for
pursuing “social justice.” Diplomacy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and
regional issues simply did not elicit in her the same levels of emotional
And Yacimovich was convinced that with little hope of
reaching a negotiated peace, the vast majority of her potential constituency
felt the same way. The socioeconomic demonstrations of the summer of 2011, a
paradigm of civic involvement that mobilized more Israelis than ever before in
Israel’s history, seemed to be a sign that the Labor Party, if it returned to
its socialist roots, could capitalize on a sea change in focus away from the
intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict to more mundane – and eminently more
resolvable – problems such as the price of cottage cheese.
domineering leadership style combined with her conviction – at least before the
January elections – that a social democratic agenda had to be the main emphasis
of the campaign, resulted in many casualties.
Those included Peace Now’s
Yariv Oppenheimer, who was pushed out of a realistic place on Labor’s list
because he symbolized – more than most politicians – Labor’s central part in
bringing the two-state solution into the political mainstream. Even the
defection of Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz might be seen as the collateral damage
of Yacimovich’s leadership failures. The same could be said about the inability
of Yacimovich to form a united front together with Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni and Yesh
Atid’s Yair Lapid before January’s elections.
In recent weeks, Yacimovich
has voiced regret in the ears of Labor activists for failing to make pursuit of
a two-state solution a plank in Labor’s platform. She might have succeeded in
bringing to Labor a younger constituency with a more left-wing economic agenda,
but by neglecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she lost large percentages
of the party’s traditional support base – at least that’s what insiders are
On this backdrop, Herzog – a man with impeccable pedigree
(his father was president, his grandfather was chief rabbi), keen political
instincts and a unique ability to bridge differences and foster cooperation,
takes the helm of Labor. Though he has yet to prove himself as a political
leader who could conceivably challenge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the
next national elections, Herzog might be transformed by his new role as
opposition leader and head of the party that once upon a time enjoyed political
hegemony. Herzog definitely has the qualities needed to heal the rifts inside
Labor and build a coalition with other center-left parties like
Our political landscape is in desperate need of a strong, unified
opposition that can offer a viable alternative not just to the socioeconomic
agenda of the present government but also to its treatment of the single most
burning issue confronting Israeli society – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu has come a long way toward recognizing that in the long run the status
quo is untenable.
He has on several occasions expressed his fears that
the demographic threat represented by Palestinians and by Arabs living inside
the Green Line would turn Israel into a bi-national state. He said as much as
early as April 2012.
And in June of this year, about a month before the
present round of talks began, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee “if we go into direct negotiations, it is likely to be very hard but
the alternative of a bi-national state is one we do not want.”
has also adopted his own version of a two-state solution, an idea which
originated with the Labor party. However, the Israeli public is entitled to hear
other, more adamantly pro-two-state voices. Public opinion surveys have
consistently found that a strong majority of Israelis continues to support a
negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. Herzog, as head of an
opposition with a broad agenda, could potentially provide that alternative
voice. If he succeeds he would be making a crucial contribution to our political