...But the man I once admired just went AWOL on one of the most important issues Israel will ever face – the emerging nuclear deal with Iran. Instead, we got a petty politician who is either willing to sacrifice vital national interests for the sake of partisan politics, lacks the courage to stand up to the Obama Administration on a crucial national security issue, or perhaps both. And that doesn’t bode well for his performance in office should he become our next prime minister.
Analysis from Israel..
16 March '15..
As of this writing, the election is still too close to call. But there’s a reasonable chance that our next prime minister will be Isaac Herzog. And that prospect worries me far more than I would have expected when the campaign began, because he’s a politician I had previously admired and even publicly praised, despite our serious political differences. So although I expected to disagree with his policies, I didn’t expect to be concerned about his character.
Lest there be any confusion, policy disputes are not the same as character flaws. For instance, I think unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank would be far more dangerous than remaining there, while senior members of Herzog’s team publicly espouse the opposite view, but that’s a policy dispute: Each side genuinely believes his own position is right.
A character flaw is when a politician sacrifices something he himself considers vital to the country for personal or political benefit. And that’s precisely what Herzog did during this campaign: He publicly undermined Israel’s ability to present a united front on Iran, despite the fact that by his own admission, he has no substantive disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this issue. Moreover, he did this even though thoughtful members of his own political camp publicly urged him not to, arguing that a united front on Iran was too important to sacrifice to partisan politics.
A brief recap of the facts: Netanyahu decided to give a highly controversial speech to Congress opposing the emerging nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran. Though many moderate leftists share Netanyahu’s concerns about the emerging deal, they thought the speech was a terrible idea. So they proposed that Herzog also publicly speak out against the deal, thereby emphasizing the unanimity of Israeli concern, while simultaneously making it clear that he doesn’t endorse Netanyahu’s tactics.
Here, for instance, is Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit: “In a place where there are no men, Herzog must be the man. He must make the appropriate, seminal speech about the Iranian nuclear threat in Jerusalem. He must call on Obama not to make an irrevocable move that will undermine world order. He must act now as a national leader and steer the international campaign against Obama and Khamenei’s disastrous deal.”
Or here is Jerusalem Post columnist Susan Hattis Rolef: “I cannot for the life of me understand why the Zionist Union in general and the Labor Party in particular has not been saying from every possible podium and on all the social media in Israel that they are in absolute agreement with Netanyahu that Iran poses a serious threat to Israel, and that the policy of the US and of Europe toward Iran, and especially on the issue of what sort of nuclear capability it should be allowed to maintain, and whether the economic sanctions on it ought to be lifted, is of great concern to Israel and liable to backfire … The speech in Congress is simply considered to be the wrong tactics.”
And then there’s Times of Israel editor-in-chief David Horovitz, who even proposed that Herzog accompany Netanyahu to Congress and give a speech of his own, thereby “underlining their common conviction that the regime in Tehran cannot be appeased and must be faced down … What better way for the US to show common cause with Israel, without taking sides in its election? And what better way to present a united front against Iran?”
But Herzog rejected all this advice. He refused to go to Washington. He refused to speak out on the Iranian issue from Jerusalem. To be fair, he did write one New York Times op-ed which, though mostly devoted to attacking Netanyahu’s speech, revealed at the tail end (if anyone read that far) that he actually agreed with all of Netanyahu’s substantive concerns. But that was overshadowed by a high-profile Washington Post interview in which he said exactly the opposite: Far from highlighting the emerging deal’s problems, he declared, “I trust Obama to get a good deal.”
In short, Herzog did everything possible to persuade Americans – and especially American Democrats, the party most attentive to his left-leaning Zionist Union – that concerns about the emerging deal weren’t a bipartisan issue in Israel, but solely the province of the right, and that Democrats should therefore dismiss everything Netanyahu said as mere partisan politics. And he thereby made it far harder to mobilize the necessary bipartisan consensus in America against a bad deal.
If Herzog did this simply because he was unwilling to publicly agree with Netanyahu on any issue during a campaign, then he was sacrificing a vital security issue – the Iranian nuclear threat – on the altar of petty politics. That would be bad enough. But his own statements give rise to a possibility that’s even more frightening: He’s simply unwilling to challenge the Obama Administration on any issue, even one of existential importance to Israel. He’s willing to “trust Obama” on this deal (Washington Post) despite warning that it’s one “we might live to regret” (New York Times).
I began this column by saying I used to admire Herzog. I admired him for a very specific reason: his four-year, almost single-handed battle to pass legislation granting citizenship and compensation to members of the South Lebanon Army who fled to Israel after it unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Despite repeated failures, he never gave up; he kept trying until he succeeded. He invested sizable amounts of time, energy and political capital in a cause that had no real political constituency and would reap him no political rewards, simply because it was the right thing to do.
But the man I once admired just went AWOL on one of the most important issues Israel will ever face – the emerging nuclear deal with Iran. Instead, we got a petty politician who is either willing to sacrifice vital national interests for the sake of partisan politics, lacks the courage to stand up to the Obama Administration on a crucial national security issue, or perhaps both. And that doesn’t bode well for his performance in office should he become our next prime minister.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on January 16, 2015
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