Pundits Ponder Herzog’s Rightward Shift

YERUSHALAYIM -
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog flanked by security personnel during a recent visit to an overlook of the security barrier and Yehudah and Shomron in the Gilo neighborhood of Yerushalayim. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog flanked by security personnel during a recent visit to an overlook of the security barrier and Yehudah and Shomron in the Gilo neighborhood of Yerushalayim. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s apparent shift to the right—calling for a separation from the Palestinians and demanding tougher security measures—has many wondering whether it’s a real change of policy or mere political maneuvering.

In Israel, the right wing is normally associated with a tough security stance, while the left contends that the only way to peace with the Palestinians is through a diplomatic agreement involving major territorial concessions. Herzog’s espousal in recent months of the traditional right wing positions has come as a surprise.

In February, when Herzog condemned the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for failing to send in the army to locate and destroy Hamas tunnels, he was mocked in an editorial in Haaretz for his uncharacteristic appeal to force. Indeed, some commentators have dismissed it as a cynical turn to an electorate which has been moving rightward in reaction to six months of Palestinian terrorism. Herzog is just going where the votes are.

But Michal Biran, a Zionist Camp MK, insists that Herzog’s current approach is an attempt to revive the peace process, which has always been the goal of the left.

“What Herzog is saying is that when you have two leaders – Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – that are not making decisions and have no intention to promote the peace process then you should think about things that you can do unilaterally,” Biran told The Media Line.

Shmuel Sandler, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, concurs that Herzog’s recent rhetoric doesn’t represent a shift, but for a different reason.

“He was always there; he’s not a ‘lefty.’ He’s traditional Labor Party,” which is the senior partner to Tzipi Livni’s faction in the Zionist Camp coalition.

Sandler did acknowledge, though, a pragmatic side to Herzog’s latest rhetoric.

“[Herzog] would like to join the government. It’s easier to be reelected when you are foreign minister than it is when you are head of the opposition,” he said. The centrist approach, they believe, is the way to get there.

“They know where Israeli opinion is – there’s no point today in advancing a left-wing opposition when the public is not there,” Sandler said.

Biran rejected that analysis, noting that two-thirds of Israelis support a two-state solution, the signature position of the left. The problem, she said, is not lack of receptivity to leftist ideas, but a lack of imagination. The voters just can’t imagine an Israel without Netanyahu as prime minister, no matter what he stands for.