The almost unanimous nomination of Isaac Herzog as the next chairman of the Jewish Agency over against Yuval Steinitz, a member of the current Israeli government and one of the prime minister’s most trusted yes-man, is evidence that Diaspora leaders are choosing a man who’s likely to defend and promote Jewish life also outside Israel. Netanyahu is said to be displeased and has cancelled a meeting with the leaders of the Jewish Agency.
Herzog is an Israeli prince. His grandfather, after whom he’s named, was the chief rabbi of Israel. His father Chaim, after a distinguished military and political career, became the president of the Jewish state. But more important, Isaac Herzog himself is a man the Diaspora can respect and trust.
Unlike Steinmetz, he won’t take orders from Netanyahu and, in view of his record over the years, he will do his utmost to restore the mutually beneficial relationship between the political leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Diaspora. Herzog isn’t likely to choose American evangelicals, however Zionist they profess to be, over Jews wherever they may be, because the former are Trump’s favourites whereas the latter are likely to be his critics.
That’s very good news for the Jewish world, but not so good for Israeli politics in general and the Labour Party in particular. Herzog was until a year or so ago the elected leader of that party. Together with Tzipi Livni he was also the head of the Zionist Union that included her political colleagues. For technical reasons, he’s still the leader of the opposition in the Knesset.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party found Herzog too tame and chose Avi Gabbay as the leader of the party. Gabbay had been a member of Kulanu, which is part of the current coalition. Indeed; he himself was a government minister. He’s personable, rich and not Ashkenazi: his parents come from Morocco. He and his many siblings grew up poor, but thanks to his abilities, he made his way in the world. However, he has no roots in the Labour Party and may not even share its basic beliefs. He’s cited to have said not long ago that the party he now leads had forgotten what it means to be Jewish. Some fear that he may have come to bury the party he was elected to lead in the hope of forming an alliance with others that would enable him to become the next prime minister.
Needless to say, some Knesset member with deep roots in the Labour movement – notably Amir Peretz, a former leader – will challenge Gabbay’s leadership. The fact that Herzog is prepared to be the head of the Jewish Agency suggests that he doesn’t believe that, in view of present circumstances, he has any chance to contribute much to the political leadership of the State of Israel.
Another complication: Gabbay isn’t yet a member of the Knesset and won’t be until the next general election. This means that he has to choose a successor to Herzog as the leader of the opposition. His choice is said to be between Shelli Yachimovitch of the Labour Party and Tzipi Livni of the other party that came to make up the Zionist Union. The danger is that the one not chosen will take her supporters out of the Zionist Union and thus further weaken the opposition in the Knesset.
What’s good news for the Jewish Agency and the Diaspora appears to be less good news for the Zionist Union which until now was presumed to be able one day soon to form an alternative government. Whether this means that Netanyahu is prime minister for life is too early to say.
Jerusalem 21.6.18 Dow Marmur