A former general placed no. 2 on the Labor party’s Knesset slate has been approved by an elections panel to run in the April 9 election.
Tal Russo, a former head of the army’s Southern Command, was tapped in mid-February by Labor head Avi Gabbay to fill the second slot on the party’s ticket. But questions had been raised by election officials about his candidacy because it comes only two years after he left military service — less than the three years required by Israel’s “cooling off” law for former senior military officers.
While Russo left active duty in 2013, he was called back in a special full-time reservist capacity to lead the newly founded Depth Corps, a position he held until 2017.
In a letter to Russo, the Labor party, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on February 25, Central Elections Committee chair and Supreme Court justice Hanan Melcer wrote that Russo had concluded his service on May 10, 2017, and so could not run for elected office until May 2020. He gave the parties until March 3 to reply.
In his response last Sunday, Mandelblit noted that Russo had officially resigned his commission in 2013, and had served afterward only as a reservist. He noted that reserve duty was intrinsically different from a regular officer’s commission in that it was a voluntary, temporary arrangement, and not a long-term commitment to which a regular officer was legally bound. There were also differences in pay and other benefits, Mandelblit wrote.
Russo’s “cooling off” period before he could enter political office should thus be counted from his release from regular service in 2013, and not his conclusion of his reserves post in 2017, argued Mandelblit.
The Central Elections Committee accepted Mandelblit’s position and on Sunday cleared the ex-general to run.
“Now it’s final — I’m running and I need you with me,” Russo said in a statement on Sunday. “A change of government will only happen if the Labor party is strong.”