What can Labor prince Herzog learn from Yacimovich?

Shelly Yacimovich's principles were right - but their implementation was disastrous.

Isaac Herzog 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Isaac Herzog 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Bringing back Labor voters who shifted their loyalty to Meretz and Hatnua is an easy task. But to persuade moderate right-wing constituencies and conquer the premiership, new Labor leader Isaac Herzog must also learn something from his predecessor.
Shelly Yacimovich deserved to lose last Thursday's primaries in the Labor Party. Not because she wasn't a "team player", not due to her "lack of interpersonal skills", not even due to the absence of the Palestinian issue on her agenda. Yacimovich deserved to lose, first and foremost, because she was extremely arrogant and smug, in a way that couldn't have ended in anything but a crushing defeat. In a political competition that is determined by 15 to 17 thousand votes, not telling the difference between "supporters" and "actual voters" is a complete amateurism, which appears to account for the former chairman's loss. Had she a greater sense of modesty, or at least a more distinct sense of self confidence, she could have won and make the history she was hoping to make.
This picture becomes even gloomier from Yacimovich's point of view once taken in the broader context of internal Labor rivalries. Two powerful sectors which supported her fully in the 2011 primaries now completely mobilized against her: Histadrut party members on the one hand, and Kibutzim members on the other. On top of these groups, many party veterans, as well as in the Arab and Druze districts, joined forces to bring an end to her rule. They described it as the result of her "disassociation" from the party; she would probably dub it "score settling."
Make no mistakes about it, there was a lot to settle the score about. Since her election in 2011, Yacimovich had turned the Labor Party upside-down. In this framework, she brought a group of new, ideological constituencies into the party, namely the elite of the social justice protest which swept Israel in the summer of 2011. She completely ignored what her rivals call "the Palestinian banner", and adopted a clear, controversial economic agenda calling for greater state interference. Within the party, traditional power groups such as the aforementioned ones were pushed back to lower positions on the party's list for the Knesset, while required to garner national support to ensure their election. Previously, to win a position on the party's list, one had to win a majority only within his own electoral district.
These changes were not to the party's liking, so it decided to get rid of the person who initiated them. In place of Yacimovich, it has now crowned one of its own "princes": Yitzhak Herzog, the son of former President Chaim Herzog, and a scion of a famous rabbis dynasty from Europe. One of his campaign slogans claimed that "Boojie" (Herzog's popular name), will bring the party "back to its senses". What do these senses include? If the past tells us something: a greater emphasis on the Palestinian issue; a less extreme economic agenda; increased sensitivity to the needs of internal party interest groups and factions; and partaking in national unity governments which are not led by Labor itself. This, at least, was the case from 1984 to 1990, and from 2001 to 2011.
The problem is that the same Labor Party, the pre-Shelly Labor, if you will, had very little electoral success during the last 12 years. Indeed, obtaining a vague and unclear socio-economic agenda, together with a greater emphasis on the Palestinian issue and partaking in every single government – did not yield any successful results for the "old" Labor – the one which has now "came back to its senses". At best, that party won 19 seats in the 2003 and 2006 elections, far behind the biggest party -- Likud and Kadima respetively -- and thus lacking the ability to form and head the government.
Is this what Herzog's supporters hoped to return to? Perhaps. In this context, bringing "back home" those who shifted their loyalty to Meretz, Hatnua and even Yesh Atid will likely remain an easy task for him. To do that, all Boojie has to do is learn from his predecessor's mistakes. But if the new chairman has more challenging intentions than re-conquering the second biggest party position, he must also learn something from Yacimovich's success. 
Empirically, since 1977, the Labor managed to win only when receiving the support of center or moderate right-wing voters, mostly from the Likud. To do just that, previous Labor candidates have put an emphasis on social and economic issues on the one hand, while distancing themselves from too-extreme leftist views in terms of the peace process with the Palestinians. Ironically enough, this is exactly what Shelly Yacimovich tried to do. The principles were right; their implementation – disastrous.
Herzog's personal qualities, his wide experience and sharp political senses indicate he has a better chance to succeed where Yacimovich has failed. A potential deal with Iran and its absence from Israel's public agenda could shake Netanyahu's political supremacy and increase Herzog's chances to build his reputation as a qualified premiership candidate. But to do that, he must endorse Yacimovich's guidelines genuinely. As a mere political trick, it would not and should not be enough to buy the moderate Right's support.Ron Gilran is a Master's student for Political Studies at Bar Ilan University. His thesis, under the guidance of Doctor Nahshon Perez, deals with moral justifications for killing in Just War Theory.