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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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