Israeli Opposition and Zionist Union Chairman MK Isaac Herzog has been at the center of political outrage in Israel after being filmed saying at a meeting with Zionist Union party activists in Ashkelon on Tuesday about his own party that “we need to stop giving the impression that we are ‘Arab-lovers’. I have encountered countless people who think so.”
Herzog was lambasted for the statement by members of his own party and by other political leaders across the political spectrum, including even right-winger Naftali Bennett.
The Zionist Union (formerly Labor) party is considered left-of-center and is also comprised of several Arab Knesset members. MK Shelly Yachimovich, one of Herzog’s main rivals in the upcoming primary vote for the party leadership, raised the question of whether this is how the leader of the opposition to Netanyahu should act.
Arab Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul also fiercely criticized Herzog. “Disregarding 20% of the Israeli population is not the way to create an alternative to the government,” he said. “I condemn Herzog’s statement and demand an apology on behalf of Israel’s Arab population.”
Nevertheless, Herzog was not deterred. “I heard some are not satisfied with my Zionist approach,” he posted on Twitter on Wednesday morning. “If they want the leader of the Zionist Union to prefer the interests of the Palestinians, think again.”
This statement quickly drew condemnation from left-wing political factions. “Herzog is no longer relevant and is not a leader,” said Joint List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh. “He should have resigned long ago from leadership of the Opposition. He has turned himself into a cheap replica of Netanyahu.”
“It seems like Herzog is nominating himself as Netanyahu’s spokesperson,” commented Meretz MK Michal Rozin. “He has crossed new red lines of incitement, hatred, and racism and he should resign.”
Even MK Naftali Bennett, chairman of the right-wing Jewish Home party, criticized Herzog. “Israeli-Arabs make up 20% of the population,” he wrote on Twitter. “We do not hate them. They are equal citizens with equal rights and I am their education minister. I am tired of repeating this.”