The list of those poisoning Jewish-Arab relations in Israel was joined on Tuesday by MK Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Labor Party and head of the Zionist Union joint ticket.
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Herzog, who is fighting to retain his position due to his failure to win the last election and the criminal investigation now being conducted against him, addressed a party conference in Ashkelon and explained why his party was sinking in the polls while Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party was rising: because of the public’s feeling that “we’re always Arab-lovers.”
Lapid is doing well because the public views him as having “moved to our right,” Herzog argued. And he thereby swiftly burned the last remnants of the bridge connecting the Zionist left to Arab society.
Herzog apparently thinks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu beat him in the election because of his frightening, racist video clip (“The Arabs are coming to the polling stations in droves”). Herzog also evidently thinks Lapid is rising in the polls because, in his new persona of aspirant to the Prime Minister’s Office with a black skullcap on his head, he has switched from asking “What does the word ‘Israeli’ mean to you?” – his standard question back when he was a TV interviewer – to “What does the word ‘Jewish’ mean to you?”
So now it’s clear that Herzog sought to join Netanyahu’s government as foreign minister (contrary to his lying denials) not just because he wanted a good job, with plenty of overseas travel and media exposure, but also out of a basic identification with the prime minister’s positions and policies.
In acting like a Netanyahu collaborator, Herzog has caused dual damage. He has betrayed his title of opposition leader at a difficult time for Israeli democracy, when the right-wing government is working to permanently annex the occupied territories, suppress freedom of expression and artistic creation and weaken the Supreme Court. Labor greeted the unfreezing of construction in the settlements announced last week with equanimity. Instead of fighting it, Labor MKs opted to batter their faction’s lone Arab MK, Zouheir Bahloul, because of comments he made about terror, thereby making it clear to him that he would never belong to the club.
And here is where the real danger posed by Herzog’s statement lies. If even the Labor Party abandons its aspiration for civic equality and adopts the ideology of Netanyahu, Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman, who want power for the Jews and oppression for the Arabs, where will the minority turn? Does Arab society indeed no longer have any hope of equality, now that the chief opposition party has joined the racists of the right and views Israelis from Umm al-Fahm, Nazareth, Taibeh and Rahat as nothing more than an electoral nuisance?
Veering rightward won’t help the Labor Party either in the polls or on Election Day. The public will always prefer to buy racist goods from the source, rather than from a wretched, pale imitation. But the deeper the rift between Jews and Arabs in Israel grows, the harder it will be to heal. Thus Labor members must pull themselves together and replace Herzog as soon as possible with a leader who will offer a moral alternative to the right-wing government and hope for a just, egalitarian Israel.