Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog at a Jerusalem meeting in July 2009 Photo by Tess Scheflan
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The American diplomat to whom senior Labor official Isaac Herzog reportedly referred to when he is said to have called his rival in the leadership race Amir Peretz "inexperienced, aggressive and Moroccan" told Haaretz on Monday that he could not remember hearing such racist remarks coming out of Herzog's mouth.

"I can't talk about the cable but I have met with Herzog many times and I have never heard him say anything that was racist anti Moroccan or critical of Amir Peretz," Robert Danin told Haaretz. Danin served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the time of the reported conversation.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham related yesterday to the Haaretz report about Herzog's apparent statements. "Based on many discussions I have had with MK Herzog, I can say that the remarks attributed to him do not sound like something he would say," the ambassador stated. "These remarks are not consistent with Herzog's character. I do not wish to relate to the contents of
diplomatic correspondence."

Herzog himself denied the quotes attributed to him in a leaked January 2006 American diplomatic cable published by Haaretz. He submitted a formal protest on Wednesday with Cunningham, and demanded a public apology.

"Anyone who knows me, who knows my world views, who has seen my actions knows that there is no situation under which I would say these things or even think such things about any person or public figure," Herzog said in an interview with Israel Radio.

The disputed cable documents a meeting between then-MK Herzog and Danin, in which Herzog took his comments considerably beyond political correctness. While allowing that the main damage to Labor's ratings in the polls was caused by the ascendance of Kadima, he said damage was also done by "the public perception of Peretz as an inexperienced, aggressive and Moroccan."

The MK said the cable was "distorted", claiming that the person responsible for writing the document had misunderstood his intent. He also lashed out at Haaretz for publishing the cable, recently exposed by Wikileaks, for not requesting a response before publishing the damning information.

According to the leaked cable, Herzog said he was pleased with Labor's "excellent" Knesset list, which he described as a team that "includes Ashkenazi members [of European descent] to balance out Peretz's Sephardi [Middle Eastern] background."

The cable also provided the American diplomat's list of top leadership contenders in the party, describing them as different kinds of race horses. Peretz was "horse of a different color," Ehud Barak the "high horse," Matan Vilnai the "dark horse," Shimon Peres the "old horse" and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer the "dead horse."

The publishing of the cable on Wednesday prompted outraged Labor MK Eitan Cabel to say that "Herzog is not a qualified candidate to head the Labor Party." Herzog is one of the Labor members who are hoping to take over the party after Defense Minister Ehud Barak left the party to form his new Atzmaut Party.

Herzog responded to Cabel's comments, saying "there are people who are trying to bury me without even calling to see if the allegations are true."

Herzog said that his enemies will not be able to make it seem like he has a racial bias, adding "it is the easiest thing in the world to ride on the wave [accusing him of being racist]. Not a single false report will stop my campaign."

The Labor MK remained steadfast in his intentions, saying he will continue to take the needed steps to become the Labor Party's next head.

The full comments by American diplomats and Labor figures on Peretz will be published in Haaretz on Friday.