Herzog: Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic

Opposition leader tells Conference of Presidents that boycott movement is a threat that can only be averted by peace.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Labor leader Isaac Herzog.
The boycott movement is a threat to Israel but speaking about it doesn’t heighten the danger, which can only be averted by a peace-deal with the Palestinians, said Labor party head Isaac Herzog on Tuesday.
“Everything is out in the open. You think we can hide it? Do we not read the papers? Do we not get communiques from various companies who are checking it? You don’t think CEO’s are asking their legal council what they can do or not do?” Herzog asked the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – which is meeting in Jerusalem this week.
“Let’s not put our head in the sand. We have to realize it’s a threat. It’s there. It happens.
It’s lurking. To prevent that, we have to move to peace,” he said.
Earlier that day, he said, he spoke about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel with EU ambassadors.
“Boycott will, first and foremost, hurt the Palestinians themselves, hurt their economy, and will only simmer more bitterness and violence,” he told the ambassadors.
But Israel’s pursuit of peace has nothing to with the BDS threat, he said to the Conference of Presidents. Israel wants peace to secure its future as a Jewish and democratic state, he added.
But Israel needs to listen to the criticism it has received about its settlements activity and understand that its stance on this differs from that of the international community, which views it as unacceptable and illegal, he said, adding that international legal, corporate and economic systems look at this issue differently than Israel does. “Not everything that someone says on Israel is anti-semitic.”
He urged his colleagues and the Jewish community to differentiate between criticism and anti-Semitism.
Additionally, he chastised those who attacked the head of the EU parliament Martin Schulz and US Secretary of State John Kerry, for comments they made about Palestinians and the peace process.
“Not every effort of the secretary of state has to be termed by Zealots in Israel as anti-Semitic,” he said.
There are enemies and villains who try to undermine Israel’s existence and use BDS as a tool, he said. “But we have to be cautious by who we term as anti-Semitic,” he said.
He told the American Jewish leaders that he believed over 70 members of Knesset would support a final status agreement for a two-state solution.
He called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to say “yes” to Kerry’s framework for a two-state solution when he unveils it, possibly as early as March.
He uttered his message just one day before Abbas was set to meet with Kerry to discuss the framework agreement.
“I believe that the Kerry mission is serious. It ought to be given the opportunity. Both leaders should look each other in the eyes, say ‘yes,’ and seize the moment and move for peace,” he said.
Herzog urged the American Jewish leader to unequivocally support Kerry’s efforts as well.
“The Jewish world should demand that the Israeli government go for peace,” he said.
Israel must separate from the Palestinians, he said, as he outlined his vision for the two-state solution, based on the pre-1967 lines, in which settlement blocs would be annexed to Israel in exchange for land swaps within the Green Line.
To achieve that deal, Israel would have to evacuate some settlements, Herzog said.
“[The] Gush Etzion [settlement bloc] is as vital as Tel Aviv. But in order to have Gush Etzion, I have to give up isolated settlements,” he said.
One audience member asked if he believed peace was possible with the Palestinians, when they had supported terror against Israel for the last 20 years.
“Did you ask the prime minister yesterday why he released murderers? I think it is an immoral decision of the prime minister and the government of Israel to release terrorists with blood on their hands. To ignite the process, I would have gone for a settlement freeze. It is a much fairer proposal,” Herzog responded.
“All I am saying is that, in the end, you need to reconcile with the nation near you, part of the peace process is a reconciliation process, it requires both nations,” he said.
“Abbas is a partner. Not easy.
Difficult, annoying. We know that the Palestinians are not easy, difficult, annoying. But they are the partner right now,” he said.
Herzog said he viewed Abbas’s decision to meet for three hours with Israeli students on Sunday positively, and urged Netanyahu to do the same with Palestinian students.
Conference participants, however, heard a very different tune from Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) who addressed them earlier in the day and said that Abbas was not a partner for peace, in spite of his “charm offensive.”
He likened him to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“The problem is that what he is saying in-house – in his own education system and his own TV and his presidential website – is totally different.
The main message of Palestinian incitement is that sooner or later Israel should be eliminated,” Steinitz said.
It portrays Jews as horrible creatures, he said.
Steinitz used media reports that Palestinians wanted Israel to accept some refugees into its state as part of the framework deal as evidence of the latest incitement. He said that this shows they do not really accept a two-state solution.
This isn’t about numbers it is about the principle of two ethnic nationalist states. Pushing Israel to accept Palestinians refugees is part of Abbas’ refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, he said, adding that “once there is a Palestinian state, it is open for Palestinian immigration.”
“We are unwilling to accept the idea that the Palestinian state is for the Palestinians and that the Jewish state is also partially for the Palestinians.
This is not two states for two people,” Steinitz said.
He warned that the proposal would seem benign and might appear to place Israel in control of deciding how many refugees would be allowed into its borders, but once the principle was accepted, the international community would push Israel to absorb a number that would threaten the Jewish nature of the state.
If Israel fails to do this, the Palestinians will claim that they violated the terms of the peace deal, Steinitz said.
“We have to be careful not to give in to Abu Mazen’s [Abbas’] double speech messages,” he said.