Labor of Love: Interview with Isaac Herzog

From matters of the heart to hard-core politics.

Herzog 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Herzog 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It never ends, the work never ends,” exclaims Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog, moving aside a high stack of papers from the center of his desk, as we sit down in his Jerusalem office. “There is just so much to get done and it keeps on coming.”
Indeed, it has been a particularly busy week for the Labor Party minister after news broke last Saturday that a Netanya man, Itai Ben-Dror, had murdered his three children. Known to both welfare and medical professionals in his neighborhood, the shocking details of the case led to a string of accusations against the authorities for allowing yet another case of extreme domestic violence go unchecked.
“It’s an awful tragedy, almost unimaginable and it hits the most sensitive chords of all human beings,” comments Herzog, acutely cognizant of the criticism leveled against his workers for not better predicting that such a thing could happen. “Those I truly feel sorry for are children around the country who are hearing about this. Every child must be looking at their parents and asking could this happen to me?” In light of the gruesome crime, Herzog immediately set up a committee. appointing former Haifa District Court judge Haim Pizam to look into what happened and how children at risk can be better protected.
“According to our initial information, the steps taken by the social welfare services in Kfar Yona [where the family was treated at a government-run center during their divorce] were reasonable and fair,” he claims, quickly highlighting, however, that the issue goes beyond this particular case to the lack of coordination between various government offices responsible for such services.
This point was also highlighted, he says, in an investigation into the murder of four-year-old Rose Pizem by her grandfather Ronnie Ron in August 2008 that issued its findings in April, recommending legislation that would give full access to information about a child to all the relevant public services.
“The main block is concerns from the Justice Ministry that it will infringe on people’s privacy and from the Health Ministry, who are worried about protecting the rights of patients,” explains Herzog. “We hope to reach a compromise on this before the new Knesset session starts and then push the legislation through.
“Over the past six years 36 children have been murdered by relatives or parents and this is a terrible number, especially when you think of Israel as being a beacon unto the nations. Perhaps its time that we admit to ourselves that we might not be the chosen people we think we are; we might just be like any other people with the same terrible phenomena and we have to learn how to deal with them.”
While the Ben-Dror murders are clearly weighing on his mind, there are other, much deeper issues concerning ideology, politics and the state that have been equally as troubling for Herzog over the past few months.
The crumbling peace process, the growing rift between Israel and the rest of the world, the cracks in relations with world Jewry and intolerance of minorities and the poor are just some of the issues he grapples with on a daily basis, bringing him into direct conflict with his own personal views and his party’s platform.
The construction freeze in the settlements will end in just over a month, will Labor pull out of the government if building starts up again? This week I toured Samaria and met with settlers.
These people are under huge pressure and tension.
On one side they realize they are the crux of a major international dispute, but on the other, they want tocontinue living their lives until things are settled. A resolution must be found to this as soon as possible.
I do not want to make threats but we have made it clear that if there is no breakthrough on this within a reasonable period, it will have a bearing on our future in the coalition.
I do believe it will call for a clear-cut resolution in the party in October or November.