(Labor Zionist Camp) A Fighting Opposition (Isaac Herzog Speech)


If someone sends me a copy with English subtitles, I’ll repost this clip here of Isaac Herzog’s speech at the swearing in of what he calls the circus of Israel’s new government. In Hebrew, it sounds like something that hasn’t been heard for a long time. Shifting in his seat and looking about, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s uncomfortable body language said so. It is now to be seen if the right wing under Netanyahu and his “natural allies” can really lead the State of Israel by themselves. After years of so-called unity governments run by right wing nationalists manipulating this or that liberal cover, finally here’s the parliamentary voice from outside the government of a unified and fighting opposition from inside the center left of the “Labor Zionist camp.” In his excoriation of the Prime Minister, Herzog stood up for an alternative political vision based on liberal-left norms, including good government, rule of law, equal citizenship, social welfare, peace, and integration into the international order.

For now, here’s the written transcript:

Mr. President, Mr. Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin,

Speaker of the Knesset, MK Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein,

Prime Minister, MK Benjamin Netanyahu,

Members of the government,

Members of Knesset,

Dear guests.

The day a new government of Israel is sworn is usually a holiday, celebrating democracy, celebrating the people’s desires in the elections.   A holiday for Israel.

Today, unfortunately, this is not a holiday. And this day is not a day of joy.

The nation is looking at the new government, Mr. Prime Minister, and this is not the government that the people wanted. No even a government that half the people wanted.

Mr. Prime Minister, your natural partners pickpocketed you and therefore you didn’t form a government, you set up a circus! The Netanyahu circus!

A government of “grab what you can,” a government that was established at the last moment, almost at midnight, by a single vote, formed at any price and with only one purpose: So you will continue to survive in the Prime Minister’s chair.

You established a government with no direction and without a compass. A government without vision, with no real guidelines. Without a work plan. A government without hope.

Mr. Prime Minister, the election ended and is behind us. We are left as responsible public leaders, to pick up the pieces, heal the wounds and mend the rifts.

Your hysteria on election day will not be forgotten for a long time and the fictitious stories you spread of the buses coming to the polls, the incitement against 20 percent of Israel’s loyal citizens – you are their prime minister – will remain a shameful and ugly scar for a long time.

You said things on election day that a prime minister of Israel cannot say about Israeli citizens, even for a victory in the elections.

How is it possible that the prime minister of the Jewish state would talk about people, about citizens, and discriminate between people just because of their religion? You bought the Government with a lie, Mr. Prime Minister.

Indeed, you apologized, but it was done weakly and not in good faith.

As you dismantle the glory of Betar, brick by brick, Ze’ev Jabotinsky would be ashamed of you. His successor, Prime Minister Menachem Begin would be ashamed of you.

You won the elections at any price, Mr. Prime Minister, and now the establishment of a government at any price. All to continue and remain in the chair, longer and longer.

What for?

$9 billion paid out of our pockets to your coalition partners in order to stay in the chair, by a single vote, at the last moment.

$20 million to each member of the Knesset. 42 days of negotiations in which you committed, zigzagged, boasted, folded, threatened and crawled.

And after such negotiations, you still think you are the man who is entitled to give advice to the world on how to better negotiate with Iran?

My way is not your way. Our way is not your way.

I head the Zionist Union, which is the alternative to the Likud-led state. I stand at the head of the Labor Movement, which led to the creation of Israel.

My movement declared the establishment of the State. Sickle and sword, acre by acre, wall and tower. Until the vision of the prophets and longing for generations was fulfilled.

I stand at the head of the Labor Movement that re-united Jerusalem as our eternal capital.

I stand at the head of the Labor Movement, whose leaders never considered their own needs over the good of the country.

I stand at the head of the camp that takes responsibility for our future and destiny even when not in power, and we are committed to the basic guidelines, even as they appear weak in terms of our relations with our neighbors, for all the world to see.

When you established the previous government in March, 2013 you said, and I quote:

The new Government in Israel extends its hand in peace to the Palestinians … Israel will be ready for a historic compromise to end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all time

Two years later Mr. Prime Minister, just two years, what remains of all this?

Bar-Ilan is a corpse.

No negotiations, no political initiative, there is no political horizon and on the other hand, we see increasing signs of an upcoming confrontation. The negotiations are moving to more difficult arenas, from the Security Council in New York through the International Criminal Court in The Hague. From the campuses in the United States to the International Federation of Football (FIFA) in Switzerland.

The world’s growing hostility towards Israel, Israel isolated more than ever, more and more organizations are boycotting Israeli products, Israeli academic institutions and cultural events in Israel.

To be clear – My intention is not to say that only or primarily Israel is responsible for the state of affairs. On the contrary, the Palestinians are the main reason for the diplomatic stagnation.

But Mr. Netanyahu,

This is your watch. You are the Prime Minister from who Israel’s citizens expect solutions, initiatives, political momentum. As it is said, courage to change before disaster!

You cannot abandon the political arena and in light of this, I suggest to you, Mr. Prime Minister, do not continue to temporarily hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio for someone else.

Give the foreign ministry to a member of your party tonight.

No respectable leader would join the Netanyahu circus, established at the last minute and by a single vote, only to perpetuate the continuation of your reign. What is good and right for the future of Israel is that I will promote the opposition which I head, and to try and form a new government in Israel that you do not lead or seeing no alternative, go to new elections.

What is good and right for Israel, is that we not let you stay as prime minister at any price and say to hell with the country.

To my friend Moshe Kachlon, the incoming Finance Minister.

You and I know that you already understand;

The circus set up by the Prime Minister that you have joined is a transitional government until the next elections, which are waiting for us just around the corner.

For more than two years you worked on detailed plans for the benefit of the Israeli public. A vital war against the cost of living and the cost of housing.

You reached an impressive achievement in the elections, Member of Knesset Kachlon.

We both know you cannot even remove the programs you developed from the desk drawer. At best, a committee will be established, there will be a headline.

You know, my friend Kachlon, that this government is hanging by a thread, by an acrobat’s rope in the circus.

This government will not engage in reform or change or improvement, this is a government that will not address the cries of the residents of Dimona who are on strike,

No improvement of the plight of young families, struggling daily to survive the economic jungle created here.

This government will worry from morning to night about their own lives, about survival, about existence. Get by another vote in the Knesset in peace, by a single vote until the next vote.

My collegial advice to my friend Kachlon:  From the start, put an end to it, Tell the people the truth, large sections of which support you and want you to succeed: This is not a government that will really rule, it is impossible to run the country in this way.

A government born in dysfunction is a ship that will not reach the shore safely.

Both to you and all members of the government I say:

The State of Israel cannot exist at the same time with two Dimonas.

One Dimona in which there is one of our most impressive technological achievements, and the cornerstone of the national security and existence of Israel. A second Dimona with economic difficulties, shuttered enterprises, unemployment, lack of investment in education and development.

One Dimona cannot exist without a security apparatus to repel any enemy and the second Dimona, an elaborate security apparatus cannot rely on a disintegrating civilian front, and will be weak and meaningless.

Only one Dimona prosperous and developed, one that gives children an excellent education, that people move to instead of away from, that reduces social gaps, that builds solidarity and mutual support between the strong and the weak, the sick and healthy, young and old, the veteran immigrant from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

All the while strong enough to defend itself, this is the realization of Zionism and guarantees Israel’s existence.

Mr. Prime Minister,

Also regarding Gaza, the time has come to demonstrate the courage before the calamity.

All your bravado, that you are strong against Hamas, that you will destroy Hamas, that you will bring an end to the Hamas regime did not meet the test of reality and time.

My Prime Minister, you have not learned how to move from the military phase to the diplomatic stage, to connect with the moderates in the Arab world to lead a political initiative with the Palestinians.

Investigations into Protective Edge in the course of recent weeks is very disturbing and worrisome.

Construction of new tunnels and rebuilding of older ones has caused sleepless nights for residents of southern Israel and the Gaza perimeter, those whom we have long admired since the War of Independence. They are entitled to answers that provide sustainable security, economic and social solutions.

Southern residents realize that the government failed to provide a period of prolonged calm with these measures alone and, without any political settlement, they rightly demand different thinking and different solutions. Relating to this subject, I say to you, Mr. Prime Minister, show courage to change before the calamity.

Israel alone is not responsible for the situation in the Middle East, and of course we see the Northern front, Lebanon and Syria, but it is your duty and your responsibility to prevent, with initiative and action, the next war.

As the son of a historian, when will the Prime Minister understand that leadership is not endless sitting in the chair, but a brave attempt to change the present and the future, and make history?

Is it not your duty as Prime Minister to do everything to try and prevent the next war?

Citizens of Israel,

Thanks to many of you, we finished the election with a huge achievement. While were not given the task to form the government, the first Zionist Union, which is an alliance between the Labor Party and the Hatnua Party, reached the greatest achievement in 23 years, since Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992.

Our nation is not afraid of a long path, including our vast, strong camp.

Our path is just. Our challenge is to find a way into the hearts of the people and complete a full victory next time.

I say to you, we will undertake this task and, God willing, we will lead the next government.

Until then – we will lead a responsible and thoughtful opposition.

A little more than 4 million Israeli citizens voted in the last election.

Will lead a camp of more than two million voters who wanted change and hope.

In the name of this camp, I warn you today, Mr. Prime Minister:

If you raise a hand to the High Court of Justice – Moshe Landau and Haim Cohen, Shimon Agranat and Meir Shamgar, Menachem Alon and Aharon Barak, Edmond Levy and Miriam Naor – you will find me, Mr. Prime Minister, standing in front of you, followed by a huge camp.

We will not let you, Mr. Prime Minister, harm the Jewish and democratic Israel.

In the name of this camp, I warn you today, Mr. Prime Minister:

If you raise a hand to the free media, whose independence Menachem Begin protected with all of his might – you will find me, Mr. Prime Minister, standing in front of you, followed by a huge camp.

We will not let you harm the free Israel.

And most importantly, Mr. Prime Minister:

If you raise a hand against minorities in Israeli society as you did in the last elections, and speak to them as you did on the last day before the opening of polling stations – you will find me standing in front of you, followed by a huge camp.

We will not let you damage the heritage of the prophets of Israel.

To the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, you must not talk like that about human beings. Never about Israel’s citizens. The Prime Minister of the Jewish State must not discriminate against citizens on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or skin color.

My friends, Members of the Knesset,

Today, exactly 67 years ago, on May 14, 1948, at four o’clock Friday night, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel. This act was all that we don’t have today:

The courage of a leader that understands that leaders must change the present and the future and make history. Ben-Gurion was warned that the Arab armies will invade and immediately destroy the newly formed state. That it’s not the time for a big political act. We have to wait. It is better to postpone. Declaring the establishment of the state was also a great personal political risk for Ben Gurion.

Many of his friends told him it was not the right thing to do, even for him, that he would not survive his position as leader of the people and the nation, newly born.

All this was of no interest to Ben-Gurion.

As a leader, he did not think about himself, but only his people. He was not afraid of personal political survival, but chose the rebirth and prosperity of his people. He saw the danger but chose hope. He understood that there will be enormous difficulties but decided that the opportunity is great and will not return.

What of this reminds you of what you did during the nine years of your tenure, Mr. Netanyahu? When will you understand that the good of the country is more important than your personal benefit? When will you understand that your nation’s revival and prosperity are more important than surviving in your position? When will you choose hope and not be obsessed with danger?

How unfortunate is the distance between then and now, how far your idea of leadership is from that which was required to establish a country here.

Facing this loss of leadership and responsibility, I intend to be leader of the opposition for all.

I am leading an opposition coalition that wears a skullcap and is secular, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians, Israelis from the  Negev and the Galilee,  moshavim and kibbutzim, and from small and large cities and towns.

An opposition that will not allow you Mr. Prime Minister to erase the Declaration of Independence from our people’s heritage.

Together we will lead the opposition this is not against the State of Israel, that believes in the State of Israel, in the future, prosperity, and its citizens.

An opposition that prays and dreams of peace and security for the state. For the peace and welfare of its citizens, and that carries in its heart every day the prayer for the country.

On behalf of the 59 leaders in this House, we will be an opposition to the government. We will lead the opposition to have only one agenda: what is the good and right thing for the future of Israel.

And the good and right thing for the future of Israel, Mr. Prime Minister is that this circus government that was established at the last minute and by a single vote, will not be sworn in at all, or if sworn in today, will not last long.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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