Herzog Emerging as Credible Challenge to Netanyahu in Israeli Race

Herzog Emerging as Credible Challenge to Netanyahu in Israeli Race

Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labor Party in Israel (Ariel Schalit/AP Photo)
Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labor Party in Israel (Ariel Schalit/AP Photo)

JERUSALEM (New York Times) — Isaac Herzog was getting nervous about the traffic as his car crawled north out of Tel Aviv, on the campaign trail, so he instructed his driver to use the “tchakalaka” — the deep, hornlike siren that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s convoy regularly employs to clear the way.

Until a few weeks ago, Mr. Herzog, 54, the leader of the opposition, was considered by many Israelis to be a shrewd and able politician, but not quite prime ministerial material. The lawyer and son of a storied family who served in previous governments as a minister of housing, social welfare and tourism, he was seen as lacking the charisma and machismo many here consider vital characteristics for a commanding leader who can protect Israel’s interests.

But as the March 17 elections approach, Mr. Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party and co-founder, with Tzipi Livni, of a new center-left slate called the Zionist Union, is posing a credible challenge to Mr. Netanyahu of the conservative Likud Party. Israeli analysts say this election is not really a contest between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Herzog in the classic sense of who constitutes the most attractive candidate. Instead, they say, it is essentially a referendum on Mr. Netanyahu, with Mr. Herzog, popularly known by his nickname, Bougie, as a kind of default candidate.

“If you put up a cactus it would win some seats against Netanyahu because there are people who are just fed up with him,” said Yoaz Hendel, a former director of communications in Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

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