(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog has been trying to move his party to the center, but he appeared to have gone too far late Tuesday, when he told an audience in Ashkelon that his faction’s MKs needed to correct an impression that they are always “Arab lovers.”
“A false impression exists that we take the needs of Palestinians into account before the needs of the State of Israel,” he said at a toast for Labor activists ahead of the Passover holiday.
Herzog went on to explain the implications of the Israeli political shift to the right, saying: “Where do we [Zionist Union] fit into the hearts of the public? Not only do we have experience, we also have the ability to change the country’s current situation, without abandoning the security of Israel, God forbid, and without giving the impression – from what I have heard after meeting with the Israel public – that we always like Arabs.”
The opposition leader clarified Wednesday that he was referring not to Israeli Arabs, but to the Palestinians and their conflict with Israel.
“I heard there are those who are unsatisfied with my Zionist approach,” he wrote on Twitter.
“If they want the head of the Zionist Union to prefer the interests of the Palestinians, I have a message for them. Pick a different path.”
But the damage was already done, as his Zionist Union rival, MK Shelly Yacimovich, said such words were unbecoming of the leader of the opposition, an opinion seconded by Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On. Herzog’s critic in the Zionist Union, MK Erel Margalit, said the statement was regretful.
“Labor must be open to the Arab, religious, and haredi sectors,” Margalit said. “Arabs are part of us and we are part of them.”
Even Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett attacked Herzog from the left, saying at a pre-Passover toast at his Education Ministry that Arabs are 20 percent of the population and must be embraced.
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) reacted strongly to Herzog’s comments, “Instead of offering an alternative discourse of equality and partnership, Herzog’s remarks border on incitement and actually are similar to what Netanyahu said on Election Day about Arabs who flock to the polls.”
Herzog, he said, added “more fuel to the fire of hatred and exclusion against the Arab public.”
Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul, who is an Arab, asked Herzog to apologize and said that under Herzog the party was losing its identity. He seconded Jabareen’s remarks noting that Herzog’s statement was no better than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day remarks about Arabs.
Joint List MK Taleb Abu Arar blasted Herzog, claiming, “this is a new trend in Israel, who is more extreme against Arabs is more admired.”
He argued that Herzog is trying to become prime minister through “hate.”
Furthermore, continued Arar, the fact that the comments come as the Zionist Union leader is under investigation for corruption, demonstrates they are an effort to “give him strength and sympathy from the Jewish public.”
To make matters worse for Herzog, he was in a minor traffic accident on the coastal road that leads from Haifa to Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
His spokesman said that he was not harmed when his vehicle was among a number of cars that collided.
The accident was reported to the police and Magen David Adom and while ambulances arrived at the scene, no one was evacuated to the hospital.
Julie Steigerwald contributed to this report.