Trending Topics:

Herzog lost Israeli election because he didn’t have blood on his hands — Shalev

on 7 Comments

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.

Chemi Shalev, US editor of Haaretz

Chemi Shalev, US editor of Haaretz

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.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

7 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    April 24, 2015, 11:30 am

    Looks like Butcher Bibi is having difficulties forming a coalition, anyone know why? I thought he had this thing in the bag? Might be time to drop some more bombs on Gaza.

    • JeffB
      April 25, 2015, 7:22 am


      Pretty much here is the problem. Bibi managed to scare lots of rightwing voters who normally would have voted with his coalition partners into voting Likud so as to avoid Labor beating Likud (just party to party) and Herzog being invited to form a coalition. Which means that while he has a tremendously strong Likud , he has created a situation in which the settler party, religious party for Mizrahi Jews (moderate right), Russian party wouldn’t mind another round of elections. They certainly don’t have an incentive to help Likud / Netanyahu form a government that will easily hold together for 4 years. Which means those parties want a lot of policy concessions or positions to form a coalition with Netanyahu.

      At the same time the centrist parties ran on a platform of economic reform. They want major policy concessions and moderate cabinet positions. They themselves would likely prefer to sit under Herzog though their voters would prefer Netanyahu so they can be as demanding as they want. That combination means for Netanyahu to easily form a coalition he’d have to give away both lots of policy and lots of positions to other parties even though his party won a huge percentage of the vote (25% outright).

      Take for example Jewish home. Jewish home has 12 seats in the last knesset. At their high point they were polling as high as 19. They had deep infighting that knocked them down from 16-19 to 11-13, that infighting wasn’t Netanyahu’s fault. But then Netanyahu stabbed them in the back and broke his agreement not to campaign against one another and they ended up only getting 8. Were the election held tomorrow where their voters aren’t scared of a Labor led government and the anger over the internal issues can be resolves they are at 13+. They’ll sit in coalition with Likud but they want either massive policy concessions, the defense ministry or the foreign ministry.

      Remember the Defense Ministry runs the government in the West Bank. So giving Jewish Home (the settler party) Defense is giving the settlers complete control to set law however they want. Foreign Ministry means official adopting the Bennett plan; Netanyahu moving away from supporting 2 states in some vague future along 1967 lines and instead having a policy that he should at least defacto annex 60% of the West Bank. He could do it, but its a major change in exchange for 8 seats.

      You can see his problem. A unity government is looking more and more like the best alternative where he just gives Labor all the small stuff (policy concessions and lower level cabinet) their voters and bureaucracy really cares about and then he can bring in the centrist parties.

  2. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    April 24, 2015, 4:42 pm

    Herzog is attacked here by his supposed friends as not a serious candidate, charisma-lacking, insufficient “cajones” in the made-man department, perceived as a “freyer” by the right-wingers who think peace is a dangerous illusion. I hope Mondoweiss isn’t becoming an organ for Netanyahu propaganda. As blah chick points out, it is Netanyahu who is down to his last 16 days of overtime to get his coalition formed, or Herzog may be asked to form a government, and he would need only Kahlon to pull it off with a very thin 3 vote margin, including the Arab parties.

    Netanyahu took votes from Bennett and Lieberman to pull the election out, but they don’t want to give up so much, because the early elections were supposed to make for a right wing government with greater clarity and unity. He’s had to promise a lot to Kahlon and the religious parties, he’s tried to bluff Bennett and Lieberman into taking less, holding out the possibility that Herzog would come in, now its Herzog’s character, or lack of it, that is being attacked, as if Netanyahu doesn’t want anyone to seriously think of entrusting the government formation to him Herzog.

    A little military action on the side would play into Netanyahu’s supposed strong-man side, undermine Herzog at the same time.

    I guess my question is why do we need to pander to the right-wing settler movement?

    And maybe Herzog only appears weak to people used to Netanyahu’s heavy hand. Maybe his strength will reveal itself through more intelligent approaches to long-term problems that keep getting worse under Netanyahu’s leadership.

  3. JLewisDickerson
    April 24, 2015, 9:24 pm

    RE: “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.” ~ Weiss

    FROM [frayer]:

    [EXCERPTS] There is one correct definition of the term frayer. It means “sucker” or “mark,” in the sense that somebody is a sucker if he goes along with the rules when nobody else is following them, or a mark if he’s a naive target for thieves. . .
    . . . In Israeli life and society, the worst thing anybody can ever be is a frayer, and most people will do anything and everything they can at all times to avoid being a frayer. The only way to be certain at any given moment that you are not a frayer is to make somebody else a frayer.

    SOURCE –

    ALSO SEE: “It’s a Sin to Be a Sucker in Israel”, by Marjorie Miller, L.A. Times, 7/25/1997

    [EXCERPT] JERUSALEM — Why does an Israeli driver speed up when another car signals its intent to enter his traffic lane? Because he doesn’t want to be a freier–a sucker. . .
    . . . So does the fear of being a sucker bear upon peace negotiations?

    Israel’s bottom line in a peace accord with the Palestinians will be determined by “the sense that they are making decisions governing the existence of the Jewish state and future of the Jewish people,” said a U.S. diplomat in Israel. Not by the fear of being a sucker.
    And yet, peace negotiations are affected by the fact that neither Israelis nor Palestinians want to risk being a sucker by making concessions before the other side does.
    In negotiations, an American generally will put his cards on the table, expect the other side to do the same and assume that a happy compromise lives somewhere in the middle. But Israelis and Palestinians do not bargain in this way.
    “Both sides believe anything offered up first will be pocketed by the other side,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified.
    “Whenever things break down, this is usually the problem. They will hold out carrots but do not want to give one up until they are sure the other side will give.”
    Lucy Shahar, co-author of the book “Border Crossings: American Interactions With Israelis,” explained that, in the case of Israelis, this is because they do not share the American belief in win-win negotiations. “In his heart of hearts, an Israeli believes that is impossible,” Shahar said. “In the Middle East, usually someone loses badly. Nothing in the Israeli experience suggests that everyone wins here or in the diaspora.” . . .


    • JLewisDickerson
      April 24, 2015, 9:25 pm

      P.S. AND SEE: James’ Journey to Jerusalem (Massa’ot James Be’eretz Hakodesh), 2004, NR, 87 minutes
      In the imaginary village of Entshongweni [probably somewhere in Africa], far from western civilization, young James is chosen to undertake a mission — a pilgrimage to holy Jerusalem. But Israel is no longer the Holy Land that James and his people imagined. When he’s suspected of trying to infiltrate the country to work illegally, James’s journey takes him through the cruel heart of our [i.e., Israel’s] economic system, as he learns the tricks of the game [how to avoid becoming a “frayer/freier”] and plays it toward an inevitable end.
      Director: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz
      Language: Hebrew (with English subtitles)
      Netflix format: DVD
      Netflix listing –
      IMDb –
      Massa’ot James Be’eretz Hakodesh (2003) – movie trailer [VIDEO, 01:38] –

    • RoHa
      April 25, 2015, 12:15 am

      So Israelis will not do the right thing if it means some sort of loss to themselves? Or only if everyone else does?

      What a wonderful sense of morality!

  4. Citizen
    April 25, 2015, 5:44 am

    And the US taxpayers annually spend the largest chunk of their total foreign aid on this Israeli mentality, plus interest–guess who’s the collective frayer? And the second largest chunk on Egypt–but only so long as Egypt place nice with Israel. Same fryer. And why? AIPAC matrix impact on elected US politicians in an arena where money talks, is free speech, and everything else walks. Yet AIPAC is not deemed the agent of a foreign country, doesn’t have to register as such and so, remains the blooming flower in the closet. Who’s the frayer?

Leave a Reply