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Why did we forget about Herzog's anti-Arab campaign?

While commentators will be talking about Netanyahu’s anti-Arab race-baiting for a long time, his opponent’s anti-Arab campaign tactics never stirred up too much controversy. 

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog at campaign headquarters on election night, March 17, 2015. His slate, the Zionist Camp, fell far short of expectations that he might unseat PM Netanyahu. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog at campaign headquarters on election night, March 17, 2015. His slate, the Zionist Camp, fell far short of expectations that he might unseat PM Netanyahu. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

There were many reasons why Benjamin Netanyahu galloped to victory in last week’s election. His opponent, Isaac Herzog, was viewed by many as disconnected, elitist and lacking an alternative vision for the future of the country. However, it was Netanyahu’s campaign blitz, which came after polls revealed he was trailing his opponent by four seats, that truly won him the election.

Netanyahu pulled out all the stops, from driving a stake through the two-state solution to calling on his supporters to vote in order to counter “droves of Arabs” who were allegedly being bused to polling stations by foreign-funded left-wing NGOs. Many in Israel, as well as the international community, condemned the prime minister’s comments. After all, this wasn’t the leader of some fringe, right-wing extremist group — this was the prime minister of a state that claims to be both Jewish and democratic.

In classic Netanyahu style, the prime minister tried to backpedal from his remarks during his speech on election night, in which he promised to act as prime minister for all Israeli citizens. But it was too late: Bibi won a landslide victory through acts of shameless race-baiting.

The media, of course, rightfully panned Netanyahu for his remarks. But while Bibi’s racism was clear as day, it was Herzog’s utter indifference toward Israel’s Palestinian minority, not to mention the 47-year military dictatorship in the occupied territories, that received little media attention.

In fact, the only time Herzog’s campaign really made an effort to spotlight Israel’s Arab citizens was in a video featuring IDF veterans who served alongside him in the prestigious Unit 8200, which is part of Israel’s vaunted intelligence corps. In the video, the veterans laud Herzog as someone who “understands the Arab mentality” and “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations,” including “in the crosshairs.”

WATCH: Unit 8200 support Herzog in election campaign video

If that wasn’t enough, Herzog and the Zionist Camp also supported the disqualification of MK Haneen Zoabi from the elections, joining the chorus of far-right extremists who have been inciting against her for years. Perhaps Herzog hoped that by attacking Zoabi he would be able to steal some seats away from centrist parties, which lean to the right on security issues. In doing so, however, Herzog only proved that he is willing to delegitimize an entire public for the sake of a few votes.

On Saturday, Herzog slammed Netanyahu for his comments, saying they “humiliated 20 percent of Israeli citizens for the sake of his election campaign,” and calling them “the most fraudulent and racist utterances that exist.” By the time Netanyahu sounded the alarm, everyone forgot about Zoabi and the vicious campaign video.

I do not know whether Netanyahu or Herzog harbor a deep hatred for Arabs, or whether they simply know what brings in votes. What is clear is that Netanyahu, who took a page out of Meir Kahane’s book, was roundly criticized, while Herzog — who rubber-stamped the delegitimization of Israel’s Palestinian citizens — was mostly let off the hook.

Why? Because the Israeli consensus does not take kindly to what it views as the “extremist fringes” of society. Haneen Zoabi is often compared with far-right figures such as Baruch Marzel (it is no surprise that all the major parties also supported Marzel’s disqualification by the Central Elections Committee), who has been arrested countless times for violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. By warning against “buses full of Arabs,” Netanyahu crossed the line from Likud hawk to Marzel-type incitement. Herzog, on the other hand, remained strictly within the confines of “good taste” — and lost.

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    1. Pedro X

      This is what you call the hard left scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Edo calls Herzog the leader of the left-center party as having run an anti Arab election campaign. This is simply the hard left becoming completely unhinged and attacking Herzog who is anything but anti-Arab. Herzog was willing to have the Joint Arab list in his coalition and even Tibi in the Cabinet. Herzog spoke about aligning Israel with Arab states. What Herzog was not prepared to do was to dismantle the Jewish character of the Israeli state. He was not prepared to sacrifice Jews in Judea and Samaria for political correctness. He was prepared to freeze building outside the settlement blocks. He was prepared to meet with Abbas to see if he was a peace partner or if he was only interested in unilateral measures.

      As I have said before Herzog would make a good prime minister. However the Israeli public, for good reason, believes that left is unable to protect it, despite its good intentions. The results of the Oslo Accords exploding in theor living rooms, synagogues, malls, restaurants and buses is all too fresh in Israeli minds to accept that Labor renamed the Zionist Party could do what is necessary to protect Israelis from Arab and Muslim attacks.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        “What Herzog was not prepared to do was to dismantle the Jewish character of the Israeli state. He was not prepared to sacrifice Jews in Judea and Samaria for political correctness.”

        Translation: What Herzog, hereditary Israeli royalty, along with her highness Tzipi Livni, Likud hereditary princess with fake leftist principles, were not prepared to do is seriously move towards surrendering one dunam of the West Bank, or to ask anything, or do anything at all except grasp for power by being Likud Light when it comes to anything but the cost of cottage cheese and real estate prices for the middle class. Herzog is a fake. And an unimpressive one at that. He comes across as having no cojones about things that really matter. No wonder Israelis don’t really respect him. I don’t blame them. What a wimp. When the left diagnoses why they chose this loser they might make progress. Hint: just read anything by Konrad, Zonszein, or Segal in the past week. Including the article above on this page. Because if the internal Israeli left can’t handle this eventually the rest of the world will.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Anyone notice that the New York Times recently allowed an editorial that used the word “apartheid”?


      Let’s have more dialogue about who did what in 1990, that’ll help.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Munayer is right: Netanyahu’s reelection provides clarity…the biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel.

        Herzog arguably would have been a disaster. He would have been an attractive fig leaf while the right would have hounded and intimidated him unmercifully while engaging in an orgy of self-righteousness and nothing would change except maybe the price of cottage cheese and all the while the right avoided ownership and could make the conflict with Leftists the issue rather than the occupation itself.

        Now Netanyahu owns it, as do the voters who elected him. There is no other address:


        Reply to Comment