(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Various Israeli politicians from the Left and Right fired back at opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Wednesday after remarks he made that in order to garner constituents, his Zionist Union facition and Labor party should distance itself from the perception that it is made up of stringent "Arab lovers."
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) struck back at Herzog, saying Israeli Arabs "are not flocking [to the polls] and we do not hate them."
The right-wing minister noted that "Israeli Arabs constitute some 20 percent of the [Israeli] society."
Bennett, in a Twitter post, asserted that Israeli Arabs "are citizens with equal rights, and I am their education minister. So enough, it's tiring to return to this."
On Tuesday at an event in Ashkelon, Herzog addressed party activists saying that members of his Center-Left Zionist Union faction and Labor Party should stop giving the "false impression" that "we take the needs of Palestinians into account before the needs of the State of Israel."
His remarks pointed to what he said was the right-learning shift of the Center-Right Yesh Atid party, saying the party "took votes from us in the polls because, among other things, they are moving further to the right of us in the national consciousness."
Herzog's comment were met with criticism by fellow Zionist Union members MK Shelly Yacimovich and the party's sole Israeli Arab MK, Zouheir Bahloul.
Shortly after a video of Herzog's address was initially published by Ha'aretz
on Tuesday night, Yacimovich said such a statement shouldn't come from the opposition leader.
Bahloul for his part called for an apology, saying Herzog's statements constituted an "ethical deterioration."
Meanwhile, Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh issued a stinging response to Herzog's assertion, saying he "should have resigned as opposition leader a long time ago," and calling him "irrelevant and not a leader."
"Herzog has himself turned into a cheaper and paler imitation of Netanyahu," the Israeli Arab lawmaker charged. "Precisely in these difficult time we must present a true and bold alternative to the hateful power of Netanyahu and the Right."
In response to the backlash, Herzog on Wednesday shot back at those who reproached him, charging that his stance derived from a firm "Zionist approach."
"I heard there are those who are unsatisfied with my Zionist approach. If they want the head of the Zionist Union to prefer the interest of the Palestinians, I have a message for them - pick a different path," he wrote on Twitter. Gil Hoffman and Maariv Online contributed to this report.