Haaretz WikiLeaks Exclusive / Labor MK Herzog Also Vilified Peres, Sharon

Herzog told U.S. ambassador that Russian speakers prefer Ashkenazi leaders and implied that the insistence on appointing an Arab minister would weaken Labor.

A few weeks after making his remarks about MK Amir Peretz as quoted in WikiLeaks documents that raised a political furor, it appears MK Isaac Herzog also made problematic remarks about Russians and Arabs in Israel, as well as about Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon.

Herzog is cited in cables sent by U.S. diplomats to Washington saying "Peres is weak and unfocused," "[Russian-speaking voters] prefer Ashkenazi leaders" and "Sharon is more sexy [than Peretz]." He also implied that the insistence on appointing an Arab minister would weaken Labor.

Amir Peretz with Isaac Herziog, 2006
David Bachar

Herzog denied last week that he had told an American diplomat in 2005 that Peretz was seen as "inexperienced, aggressive and Moroccan," calling the statement distorted and out of context. But other cables published by WikiLeaks show Herzog made other potentially embarrassing remarks to American diplomats.

In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones in December 2005 about the ever-evolving Israeli political scene, Herzog said Likud had been drawing much of its strength from blue-collar workers since its establishment in 1973, while Labor continued to represent white-collar workers. This was a month after Peretz was elected Labor leader.

"Peretz is now attracting the blue-collar sector back to Labor," he is quoted in the telegram as saying.

Commenting on the Russian-speaking community, Herzog assessed that they will mainly support Sharon since "they prefer Ashkenazi leaders," but said Labor is making some small inroads with the Russian speakers by promoting Labor's egalitarian economic policies.

Herzog outlined Labor's setbacks and weaknesses, including the party's former chairman Shimon Peres' decision to quit the party and join Ariel Sharon in Kadima, and Peretz's left-of-center positions "such as embracing the Oslo Accords and his commitment to appoint an Arab-Israeli minister."

Other weaknesses included Labor's "being embroiled in internal party politics at the expense of developing a national campaign," "lack of a strong message on security issues" and replacing veteran field workers with Peretz supporters.

Herzog also discussed Kadima, which was facing its first Knesset election. He said "Israeli politics is a 'madhouse' and charged that Sharon 'stole' Hanegbi ... Sharon is trying to take everyone with him."

Herzog said "I was one of the first people Sharon called to ask to join Kadima ... Sharon begged me to join." Herzog said he could not do so since Labor is his "home." Still, Herzog praised Kadima under Sharon. "Acknowledging that Sharon has a stronger message than Peretz on security issues, Herzog said that Labor wants to focus the campaign on the economy rather than on security. He stressed several times during the meeting that Peretz is a 'hard worker' and would be focusing on improving his campaign organization ... Herzog asserted that Labor has a good security team, but added 'Sharon is more sexy.'"

In another conversation with then-U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, Herzog said that Shimon Peres, then Labor's interim chairman until he lost the leadership to Peretz, was "weak and not focused." Herzog told the ambassador it was necessary to speed up the disengagement because Peres "is waning in strength and focus."