Running mates former justice minister Tzipi Livni and Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog are not an obvious electoral alliance teaming up against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see who will govern Israel.
She quit the traditional Likud party of the right to join the Kadima centrists before she formed the liberal Hatnuah party. He’s a socialist. Together, they head the centre-left Zionist Union, with a mantra ‘to defend a Jewish and democratic state’.
Livni packs significant political weight in the contest, Herzog less. The prime minister’s experience puts Herzog in the shade, many say the same goes for charisma.
Herzog says: “We need to join forces, we need to unite, we need to work together to win; it’s either us or him.”
Determination wins points with the anyone-but-Netanyahu voters. Herzog is 54, a lawyer elected to the Knesset in 2003 after serving as government secretary in Ehud Barak’s cabinet. After that he was construction minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, then handled tourism under Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu. When Labour quit that coalition, so did Herzog.
In 2013, the son of a former Israeli president and grandson of a one-time chief rabbi was elected to chair his party. But its reputation has been suffering so much that he opted not to run under its banner alone now but to team up with Hatnuah, meaning The Movement (established in late 2012).
Livni’s also a lawyer, a powerful politician, once dubbed Israel’s Iron Lady.
After her military service she joined the Mossad intelligence agency. Then she quit, married and had two children. She was elected to the Knesset in 1999, and Sharon swiftly took her under his wing. With him she was minister for agriculture, justice and then foreign affairs.
She joined the Olmert government in 2006, now in the Kadima party Sharon had founded the year before. Now she was again foreign minister, and deputy prime minister. Livni has appeared alternately dovish and hawkish.
She supported military action against Gaza in 2008 saying only that could stop rocket fire into Israel. Yet that same year she broached peace moves with the Palestinian Authority, displaying more flexibility over East Jerusalem as the Arabs’ prospective capital.
In 2009, she led Kadima in elections for the Knesset. It won one more seat than Likud but had dim prospects of forming a coalition given the right’s opposition and so the president asked Netanyahu to form a government. She was its justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians till Netanyahu fired her last year.
Herzog, also married, with three children, and Livni say they plan to alternate as prime minister if their Zionist Union campaign is successful.