Labor leadership candidate MK Isaac Herzog released a statement on Wednesday morning vigorously denying a report in the Haaretz newspaper that he had made statements to an American diplomat that were racist.
The newspaper published an unsourced, anonymous quote it claimed came from an American diplomat in a cable sent during the 2006 election campaign that was leaked via WikiLeaks. According to the report, Herzog said that Amir Peretz, who was Labor’s candidate for prime minister, was perceived as “an aggressive, inexperienced and Moroccan [candidate],” but that Labor’s list for the Knesset had Ashkenazim who balanced out the Sephardim.
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Herzog said emphatically that he would not say such things, nor think them. He questioned Haaretz’s professionalism, accusing the newspaper of twisting words that came from an anonymous diplomat.
“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 tried to reach Peretz to apologize to him personally.
Peretz’s office said that a meeting was necessary to clarify the situation and that he would invite Herzog to meet with him on Thursday to clarify what he said.
Herzog (Labor) said on Wednesday that he demanded a public apology from US Ambassador James Cunningham for the diplomatic cable.
Speaking at a memorial service for his father, president Haim Herzog, Herzog said that the cable 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 current race to lead the party, responded by saying that “such statements, if they were said, and I believe they were said, [whoever said them] should not be able to run for the chairmanship of Labor. I am sorry, Herzog. You failed big time.”
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 uncork the ethnic genie in this race will not succeed,” Herzog said.
Haaretz 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-Simon, 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.
Peretz made a point of not criticizing his competition in the race, MKs Herzog and Shelly Yacimovich. But he spared no insults for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his close ally, defense minister and former Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
“The prime minister is weak and captive in the hands of his foreign minister,” Peretz said.
“Netanyahu not only refuses to make peace, he actually schemes against it. The behavior of the prime minister will make Israel pay a hefty price that goes up every day.”
Peretz admitted that Labor was not in a place where its leader could be considered a serious candidate for prime minister. He did not rule out Labor running with Kadima or other parties in the next election, and he promised to not follow the lead of Barak, who took the party into a nationalunity government led by Netanyahu.
“There are right-wing governments that need a poodle to support its
right-wing agenda and left-wing governments that need a party on the
Right to promote its agenda,” Peretz said. “The same way that [Israel
Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman was the poodle in [prime minister
Ehud] Olmert’s government, Barak is a poodle for the Right today. I will
not join any government led by Netanyahu or anyone to the Right of him,
Peretz was joined at the press conference by Labor MKs Eitan Caleb,
Ghaleb Majadle and Daniel Ben-Simon, who all opposed joining Netanyahu’s
government. All three MKs will support Peretz’s run. It is unclear
whether Binyamin Ben-Eliezer or Avishay Braverman, the only other two
Labor MKs who are not running, will endorse a candidate.
Admitting that he and his allies nearly decided to leave Labor when
Barak split the party in January, Peretz said they decided to instead
help rebuild the party from the opposition. He vowed to remain in Labor
no matter who wins the election.
Regarding the four cabinet seats given to Barak’s five-MK breakaway
Independence faction, Peretz said, “If four ministers for five MKs is
not political corruption, I don’t know what is.”
He contrasted the lifestyle of Netanyahu revealed by his travel scandal
with his own small house in Sderot, where his children and grandchild
live with him and his wife.
Peretz started the press conference with a mea culpa in which he
apologized for accepting the Defense portfolio after he led Labor to 19
seats in the 2006 election. He said he took the job only after Olmert
refused to make him finance minister and that from the Defense Ministry,
he made smart decisions such as initiating the Iron Dome missile
defense system while promoting his socioeconomic agenda.
Promising a “socioeconomic Iron Dome,” he said he would insist on key
steps to help poor families get by financially and enable young couples
to buy homes. He also expressed support for enacting direct, regional
Knesset elections, which he said would enable the poorest sectors to be
While Peretz resisted invitations to criticize his opponents within Labor, Herzog attacked Peretz and Yacimovich willingly.
He warned Labor activists at a rally in Beersheba on Monday night that
they would make Labor into a niche party like Peretz’s shortlived Am
Ehad, which won three seats in the 2003 election.
Yacimovich welcomed the candidacy of Peretz, who brought her into
politics from the press shortly after he defeated current president
Shimon Peres in the 2005 Labor leadership primary. Peretz lost the party
chairmanship to Barak a year and a half later.
“Having multiple candidates is good for the party, because it adds life
to Labor and makes people want to join its ranks,” she said. “I don’t
I am sure Labor members are smart and will choose the candidate who will
know best how to bring the most new young supporters and restore the
faith of the public in the party.”