Reality check: Time for Labor to stand up

If Herzog can’t do this, then he has no right to expect one day to lead the country.

Isaac Herzog
With this week’s opening of the Knesset’s winter session, one can only hope that Labor leader Isaac Herzog remembers that his job is to oppose the go-nowhere policies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, highlight the damage the prime minister is doing to this country, and seek to bring him down.
Unfortunately, judging from Labor’s misjudged letter to British parliamentarians earlier this month, this cannot be taken for granted.
In the run-up to the recent non-binding vote at Westminster in favor of recognition of Palestinian statehood, Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar embarrassingly pleaded with his British Labor counterparts not to support the motion.
Using language that even the noted orator Netanyahu would approve, Bar pathetically argued: “I understand why many of you will want to vote for anything which claims to be a contribution to peace. But immediate and unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood does nothing to advance this vital cause. In fact, precisely the opposite... .”
Bar went on to claim that British parliamentary support for Palestinian independence – in a symbolic vote, let’s not forget, that has no binding influence on British foreign policy – would only serve Israel’s hard Right, who argue Israel has no partner for peace and that the Palestinians are not interested in negotiating with Israel.
Not surprisingly, most British Labor members of Parliament ignored Bar and went on to support the motion, which called on the UK government to “recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” Since then, despite Bar’s dire warnings, the (non-existent) peace process has not taken a turn for the worse – but Labor’s image as a fighting opposition to Netanyahu’s government certainly has taken a severe hit.
There’s a longstanding Israeli tradition of the opposition not attacking the government when appearing overseas, but there’s a world of difference between not criticizing Netanyahu’s policies and serving as an international PR spokesman for the government, which is what Bar, and by extension the Labor Party did in this sorry epistolary episode.
The truth is that internationally, there is not a world leader, with the possible exception of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has any confidence in Netanyahu’s empty protestations that he wants to arrive at an agreed-upon solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is not unpatriotic for Israel’s Labor Party to share this correct assessment with their international counterparts and it is definitely in Israel’s long-term interest for Labor to bring the world community’s lack of belief in the prime minister into the domestic arena instead of trying to cover for Netanyahu in foreign parliaments.
THE DETRIMENTAL effects of Netanyahu’s policies are currently being felt most intensely in Jerusalem, with the capital suffering yet another wave of violence, marked at one end by the horrific murder of 17-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir this summer, and last week’s shocking terror attack which took the life of three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun.
The prime minister will no doubt use the occasion of the Knesset session’s opening to roll out the empty clichés of “a united Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital” (a short visit to Arab east Jerusalem neighborhoods quickly disposes that illusion) and promise a tough response to violence, but the roots of the disquiet in the capital will take more than the introduction of more Border Police to Jerusalem to dispel.
With no diplomatic progress on the horizon, calls by the Israeli Right to change the status quo on the Temple Mount and plans to increase Jewish construction inside east Jerusalem, it’s hard to be optimistic as to the future of a peaceful Jerusalem. As Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Perry, a former Shin Bet head, stated last week, the escalation in Jerusalem is a “ticking time bomb” which could lead to a full-fledged third intifada.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, in a weekend interview with Yediot Aharonot, meanwhile warned that the diplomatic challenges facing Israel were enormous and will only worsen in the future. This, she said, demanded “active leadership” and “initiative” on behalf of the prime minister.
And yet Perry and his colleagues in Yesh Atid, and Livni and her Hatnuah party, are failing to mount any serious challenge to Netanyahu’s policies inside the government, preferring instead to remain rooted to their cabinet seats rather than threaten to bring it down.
The responsibility to bring this sorry state of affairs to the country’s attention lies with Herzog as head of the opposition. His job from now on is to highlight the failures of the prime minister, the hypocrisy of some of the leading members of the coalition, and to seek to bring as quick an end as possible to this ineffectual government which is leading the country further and further away from any possibility of a better future. If he can’t do this, then he has no right to expect one day to lead the country.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.