Knesset Members from the Zionist Union called on party leader Isaac Herzog to resign Wednesday, as the opposition leader was strafed by party members over his unpopular bid to join the governing coalition, which he froze earlier in the day.
Herzog had seemed poised to bring his Zionist Union faction into the coalition despite fierce opposition from most of his own party’s lawmakers, but he aborted talks Wednesday afternoon after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced parallel negotiations with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, led by Avigdor Liberman.
Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir wrote on Facebook that Herzog’s efforts to take Zionist Union into a unity government led by Netanyahu were self-serving and “unforgivable.”
“It is now clear that Bibi used Herzog in order to bring Liberman into the government,” Shafir wrote, using the prime minister’s nickname. “A leader who cannot differentiate between the Bibi of a peace agreement and the Bibi who gives the defense portfolio to Liberman is not worthy to be head of the Labor Party.”
Colleague Mickey Rosenthal also demanded Herzog’s resignation, saying that the party leader has lost the trust of the voters.
“The party will not be able to recover if you do not hand over the keys. You have lost the confidence of the electorate,” he wrote on Twitter.
In announcing his decision to freeze talks, Herzog said he would not continue the negotiations so long as Yisrael Beytenu’s inclusion in the coalition was on the table.
“Until Netanyahu decides where he is going, we will not conduct parallel negotiations,” announced Herzog, insisting that Zionist Union would not serve in the coalition together with Liberman. “If Netanyahu wants to bring Liberman into the government, then let him do it. We will take them apart from the opposition.”
Netanyahu and Liberman were slated to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
There was no immediate word on the results of the meeting, but several Hebrew websites carried an unsourced report that Netanyahu had told Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon he would have to cede his post, likely to make room for Liberman.
There was no confirmation of the report. Sources close to the prime minister said, however, that the meetings with Liberman did not “close the door to the Labor party.”
Herzog’s decision to engage Netanyahu in coalition talks had sparked a wide backlash within the party over the past several weeks, and attacks on the party leader grew louder following his announcement those talks would end.
MK Shelly Yachimovich, who preceded Herzog as the head of the Labor Party — which is the senior of the two constituents of the Zionist Union faction — claimed victory in her campaign to prevent the party from joining Netanyahu’s government.
“We won,” Yachimovich wrote on Facebook, in a post accompanied by an image of a falling man used in the opening credits of the TV show “Mad Men.” “But God, what a disgrace! On the one hand I have a tremendous sense of relief that we succeeded, by joining forces, in stopping the disgrace of crawling into the government. On the other hand I admit that I am really angry. How far could this ongoing political suicide be taken?”
Liberman held a press conference Wednesday morning denying that Netanyahu, who has been steeped in marathon coalition negotiations with Herzog, ever directly extended an offer to his party to join the government, and said he would consider such a move if his demands were met.
“I heard repeatedly in the media that we received such-and-such offers,” said Liberman, adding that “we didn’t hear anything through official [channels].”
“We do not rule out — and have never ruled out — entering the government under certain conditions,” he continued. “There is no personal issue, and all the personal matters are irrelevant. If our main issues are addressed, we have what to talk about.”
Liberman’s party was demanding the defense portfolio, support for the death penalty for convicted terrorists, and efforts to resolve the pension crisis for Israelis from the former Soviet Union, according to reports.
His ultra-nationalist party is the only right-wing faction in the opposition, which is led by the Zionist Union and includes the Joint (Arab) List. Netanyahu commands a 61-member coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, meaning the departure of any members could compromise his wafer-thin majority.
Liberman and Netanyahu ran on the same list in the 2013 elections, but had a public falling out in 2014 over the prime minister’s handling of the war in Gaza.