Zionist Union chief defends statement over party’s image as ‘Arab lovers’

Marcy Oster

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaking to foreign press in Jerusalem, Feb. 24, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaking to the foreign press in Jerusalem, Feb. 24, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog defended his statement that his Zionist Union party must stop giving off the impression of being “Arab lovers” in order to attract more votes.

On Wednesday, the day after he made the remark to party activists in Ashkelon, Herzog posted on Twitter: “I’ve heard there are some who are not satisfied with my Zionist approach. If they want the chairman of the Zionist Union to give preference to Palestinian interests, I have a message for them: They should recalculate their route,” an expression from the GPS service Waze.

Herzog had been discussing the need for the party to change in response to changes in Israeli society. He was slammed by members of his own party and other lawmakers.

Shelly Yachimovich, whom Herzog defeated to lead the Labor Party, which with the smaller Hatnua party makes up the Zionist Union, tweeted: “Is this the proper response by the head of the opposition to demonstrations by the extreme right?”

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Yachimovich later tweeted a photo of the section of Israel’s Declaration of Independence dealing with equal rights for all citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender.

Knesset lawmaker Ayman Odeh, the head of the  Arab Joint List, called on Herzog to resign as head of the opposition.

“Herzog is neither relevant nor a leader, and should have resigned as the head of the opposition a long time ago,” Odeh said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Herzog has turned himself into a cheap and pale impersonation of Netanyahu. Specifically during these hard days, we need to present a real and bold alternative to Netanyahu and the right’s rule of hate.”

Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, which belongs to the Netanyahu government, also tweeted an angry response.

“The Arabs of Israel constitute about 20 percent of the population. They are not ‘droves’ and don’t hate us,” Bennett wrote. “They are citizens with equal rights and I am their education minister, and I am sick of repeating this.”

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