(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor leadership candidate Isaac Herzog released a statement Wednesday morning vigorously refuting a report in the Ha'aretz newspaper that he had made statements to an American diplomat that were racist.
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The newspaper published an unsourced, anonymous quote it claimed came from an American diplomat via WikiLeaks that during the 2006 election campaign. According to the report, Herzog said that Peretz, who was Labor's candidate for prime minister, was perceived as "an aggressive, inexperienced, and Moroccan" but that Labor's list for the Knesset had Ashkenazim that balanced out the Sephardim.
Speaking at a memorial service for his father, president Haim Herzog, Herzog said that the cable, leaked by Wikileaks, is a "twisted distortion of my words. I spoke to US Ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, and I officially protested that an American diplomat would dare to credit me with words I never said. I demand a public apology; I was educated to be a Zionist and love my fellow man and no one can say I said such twisted and baseless words."
US Embassy Spokesman Kurt Hoyer said: "We continue to condemn condemn the Wikileaks process, and we will not comment on specific allegedly leaked documents. This reckless release of what may or may not be accurate information endangers lives in some cases, let alone careers and happiness."
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who supports Peretz in the race, responded by saying that "such statements, if they were said and I believe they were said, should not be able to run for the chairmanship of Labor. I am sorry, Herzog. You failed big time."
Herzog said emphatically that he would not say such things, nor think them. He questioned Ha'aretz's
professionalism, accusing the newspaper of twisting words that came from an anonymous diplomat.
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"Everyone who knows me, my work, and my beliefs knows I wouldn't think such things, not about any sector or anyone in particular," Herzog told Israel Radio. "I don't remember such a meeting. The person who they say I met with might have made a mistake or the newspaper might have skewed things. They didn't ask me for a response before printing it. I am also upset that this is being used against me by my opponents without calling me to check first."
Herzog vowed that no incorrect quotes or reports would stop him from focusing on key issues and winning the race. He noted that WikiLeaks reports had been proven inaccurate on many occasions.
"The attempt to remove the ethnic genie in this race will not succeed," Herzog said.Ha'aretz
brought down rising Labor politician Ori Orr in 1998 when it attributed racist statements to him that were later found to have been twisted and taken out of context. The reporter responsible for ending Orr's career was Daniel Ben-Eimon, who coincidentally is now a Labor MK who supports Peretz.
Peretz refused to answer a question related to race at his press conference at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov on Tuesday in which he announced his candidacy for the Labor leadership in the party's September 12 primary.
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