At an event on the Israeli elections at the Manhattan JCC last month (March 19th in this list of podcasts, 1:13), an audience member asked why Isaac Herzog of Labor lost the election when polls were showing Labor and its Zionist Camp partnership doing very well– and what would it take for a left-of-center Israeli to win?
Chemi Shalev, the US editor for Haaretz, answered:
From the day that Netanyahu announced the elections, this was portrayed as a referendum about Netanyahu, yes or no. And Netanyahu was under attack from all sides. And so a decision was made in the Herzog campaign that he would maintain a low profile, and that Netanyahu would be exposed to the attacks against him, and that would whittle down his support.
That may have been a wise decision given that Herzog is not a very charismatic politician. And he didn’t exude the kind of charisma that is perhaps necessary in order for the left to have a theoretical chance to win. And the people around him didn’t exude the kind of confidence that you would expect if you have a leader with charisma. And the fact is that the only two times that Labor has won since 1977 is when they had proven generals, heroes, who had a lot of experience– excuse me, who had blood on their hands– and who could project themselves, you know they’re tough guys and nobody is going to take advantage of them. And all the other cases, when they had civilian candidates, they lost.
So if you ask me what Labor should have done, it should have had a different candidate. But they didn’t have one in the ranks. People were talking about Yuval Diskin, former head of Shabak. I have no idea whether he would have been a good candidate or not.
If there’s one thing I have to say about the media… where did the media go wrong? I think a lot of people in the media knew that Herzog was not really the best candidate or perhaps not even a fitting candidate, but most of the media is against Netanyahu, so it was convenient for everyone to focus on Netanyahu’s deficiencies, rather than to admit that we just haven’t produced a candidate that can win even under these very positive circumstances for the anti-Netanyahu forces…
I think if we– if the left had a serious candidate, it would have had a serious chance of taking these elections.
Shalev also said at the event that a large portion of Israelis tend to see politicians who would give up land in the West Bank to make peace as “freiers,” or suckers. The event was moderated by Ethan Bronner of Bloomberg and led by Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, who is a social justice liberal. It seems to me that American Jewish leaders should be doing more to explain to Americans the rightwing nature of Israeli society, and the reasons that some have termed leading elements of Israeli political culture fascist.