An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station inside a church in the northern town of Reineh.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must make amends with Israel's Arab minority in the wake of his comments about high voter turnout in the tail-end of the recent election campaign, Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog said on Saturday.
"When Netanyahu said that the Arabs were heading to the polls in droves, he humiliated and hurt 20 percent of Israel's citizens all in the name of his re-election drive," Herzog said. "His first order of business must be to right this wrong with deeds, not with empty words. He must heal this rift that he caused."
“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses,” Netanyahu told his supporters on Election Day.
“We only have you,” a visibly tired Netanyahu pleaded. “Go to the polls, bring your friends and family, vote Mahal [Likud] to close the gap between us and Labor [Zionist Union].”
“With your help and God’s help, we will form a nationalist government that will protect the State of Israel,” he added.
"Netanyahu must do everything in his power to make [Israeli Arabs] fully equal," Herzog said.
"Throughout its history, Judaism has always known how to respect and honor those who are different," the Zionist Union leader said. "In his choice of words when referring to one-fifth of Israel's citizens, he caused damage to Jewish tradition and he continued to tear apart the human Mosaic that comprises Israeli society."
"Words of reconciliation from his spokespeople will not help to heal the wound that he inflicted," Herzog said.
Netanyahu, during a Friday interview on the Fox News Channel, was asked by host Megyn Kelly if he regretted comments he made about Arabs turning out to vote against him "in droves."
The Israeli premier said his words "should be taken in a larger context."
"I warned of foreign money coming in to selectively try and bring out supporters of a list that includes Islamists and other factions that oppose the State of Israel," he said, referring to the Joint Arab list, which on March 17 became the third largest party in the Knesset.
Herzog gave his first interview to the Israeli press since his election defeat, telling Channel 2 on Saturday that he has no intention of seeking a place in Netanyahu's coalition.
"I'm not negotiating," Herzog said. "We will wage a struggle [against the government] from the opposition. I say this as clearly as I can. We will serve as an alternative to Netanyahu. I will head the opposition against him."
When asked about the stunning result which gave Netanyahu a resounding victory even though exit polls on Tuesday indicated a tie in the number of Knesset seats, Herzog told Channel 2: "Early on in the campaign, I was convinced we would win."
"Three days before the election, I still believed it," he said. "In the two-and-a-half days, Netanyahu reinvented himself. He stooped to resorting to lies, incitement, and racism. It burst out into the fore like a vein that exploded. There is a very deep layer of fearmongering and incitement at play."