Herzog Rising

Isaac Herzog is Labor’s charismatic new leader. Can he retain the revolving door office as Labor’s leader? Could he be Israel’s next PM?

Isaac Herzog ascended to the Labor leadership last year after former Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich delivered Labor’s fifth consecutive electoral defeat, and third consecutive third place finish. The party that, in one form or another, governed Israel until the mid-70’s and continued to be a powerful party in the 80’s and 90’s seems to have lost much of its appeal to the Israeli electorate.

Isaac Herzog, Labor Party Leader
Isaac Herzog, Labor Party Leader

Yitzak “Buji” Herzog is more than just Labor’s young new leader, he has the potential to be the kind of cultural phenomenon that Rabin and outgoing President Peres have been. His father was Israeli President Chaim Herzog (1983-1993) an Irish Zionist and son of the prominent “Sinn Fein Rabbi.” The elder Herzog was a WWII hero of the Royal Army, and a veteran of the Haganah (the Defense) during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. The younger Herzog has served in the Knesset for over eleven years and has held several cabinet positions.

For the third time Labor has come in behind a center-left party, Kadima (Forward) in 2006 and 2009, and now Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party (There is a Future). The first question one might ask Knesset Member Herzog is, how does Labor get back to second place? Labor must demonstrate that it is THE alternative to Likud. At the moment one might ask if Yair Lapid has a greater chance of forming a future government than any Labor leader. Lapid’s public support is down for the moment, but he is holding his own. When one considers Israel’s many “come from behind” or “comeback kid” leaders including Yitzak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, and dare I say, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu; Lapid’s future remains full of possibilities.

Labor’s Chimera

Labor is haunted by a three-headed Chimera. First, Labor seems to lack the confidence, if not also the competence, to govern. Second, it is also being pushed to the far left by center-left parties. Third, perhaps most important, it lacks consistent leadership.

Nevertheless, Herzog talks of a great future for Labor. His path to second place is to speak of a possible first place finish; a clever strategy that strikes at two of the Chimera’s three heads. Labor will never inspire voters that they have confidence and competence to govern if they cannot bring themselves to imagine the day when the Prime Minister’s (PM) office is held once again by Labor. Herzog is also reminding voters that votes for center-left parties in both of the most recent elections brought on Likud-led governments; striking back at the second head.

Kadima came in first in 2009 but lacked the overall support of the Knesset to form a government. Then Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni, lately of Hatnuah (The Movement), refused to join Netanyahu’s government. In the most recent election Livni and Lapid, the two center-left culprits, have joined Likud’s coalition. Herzog sees a path to second place in demonstrating to voters that “a vote for the center-left is a vote for Likud.” Here, Herzog may have a winning strategy. He must also be careful not to alienate these center-left parties and their ego-driven leaders as they may be necessary components to a future Labor government. It is a tough balancing act.

The strategy of defining the center-left as tools of the right works even better in the long-term view since Likud currently benefits from Bibi Netanyahu’s relatively center-right leadership. Behind Bibi in line for the leadership are such candidates as Danny Danon, who is far to Bibi’s right. Even more terrifying a prospect for Israeli voters is the spectre of a Likud led by a radical like Moshe Feiglin. These possibilities only strengthen Labor’s future prospects.

Labor’s chimera also has a third head: headlessness. In the past fifteen years Labor has had five party leaders, six if you count Ehud Barak’s two stints as party leader separately. Labor had a place in Netanyahu’s government in the 18th Knesset (2009-2013) until party members decided that they would no longer cooperate. Ehud Barak responded by splitting for the party to form the Ha’atsmaut (Independence) Party. Its brief existence ended at the next election. One could be forgiven if, in analyzing Herzog’s grand plans they might interrupt him to ask, “And just how long will you last?”

Herzog’s competence as a leader is difficult to question. He certainly has the capacity to hold on to the post of Labor leader, but a second place finish in the 20th Knesset (or better if he can manage it) would go a long way to solidify his position.

Learn more about Herzog’s strategy in Coalition Fracking.

About the Author
Isaac Kight earned his MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 2010. He served as a volunteer for the Knesset State Control Committee from 2009 to 2010. Isaac has a broad experience of Jewish community and religion in the US and Israel.