But as Palestinians have long known, the parties that make up the Zionist Union, particularly Herzog’s own Labor Party – whose previous leader Yitzhak Rabin signed the 1993 Oslo accords with the PLO – have only ever offered Palestinians an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Israeli activist Ronnie Barkan subtitled the video at the top of this article of Herzog’s comments.
Herzog explained to activists how the Zionist Union needed to act to stem the loss of votes to parties even further to the right.
“How do we win the hearts of the people?” he asked.
The challenge, Herzog said, would be to convince the public that the Zionist Union was fit to govern “without giving a sense – which I encounter in numerous meetings with the Israeli public – that we are always Arab lovers.”
Notably, this crass pandering comes at a time of escalating racism in Israeli streets, including frequent “Death to the Arabs” marches.
Herzog also revealed that he had made intense efforts to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, because “these days the gap between myself and Moshe Yaalon is relatively small.”
Yaalon, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, is the Israeli defense minister who executed Israel’s devastating summer 2014 attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.
More recently, Yaalon, the ostensible moderate, expressed his preference for Islamic State, the violent extremist group also known as ISIS, over Iran, the Persian Gulf power which last year signed a nuclear agreement with Israel’s largest patron, the US.
If it wasn’t abundantly clear that there is no practical difference between Israel’s Zionist “right” and “left,” Herzog boasted at the Ashkelon meeting of his plan for hafrada – the Hebrew word for separation that can reasonably be translated as apartheid.
This was the plan Herzog campaigned on during last year’s Israeli election, and it reveals that the vision of Israel’s so-called peace camp amounts to nothing more than permanent occupation of the West Bank and a bantustan for Palestinians.
In addition to Herzog’s comments in Ashkelon, Barkan added three more clips to the video that underscore that the Zionist Union is not and has never been an alternative to Israel’s status quo.
The second shows Herzog defending his Ashkelon comments on Israel’s Channel 2 a day later and the third is of an election campaign broadcast from last year in which Herzog accuses Netanyahu of not being harsh enough toward Palestinians.
The final clip shows Herzog, then minister for social affairs, on the UK’s Channel 4, trying to explain and excuse Israel’s attack on a UN facility during Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on Gaza.
Though it did not come to pass, bringing Herzog on as foreign minister would have made sense for Netanyahu since, as the record shows, the two have few real policy differences.
But as former Israeli prison guard and Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg put it, Herzog, with his dovish image, could “gain access to the West Wing” of the White House, where Netanyahu has “burned bridges.”
Herzog must go
The liberal Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz was so appalled by Herzog’s “Arab lovers” comments that it editorialized that the party must get rid of him as soon as possible.
“Veering rightward won’t help the Labor Party either in the polls or on election day,” it said, adding that “the public will always prefer to buy racist goods from the source, rather than from a wretched, pale imitation.”
Haaretz hoped that Herzog would be replaced “with a leader who will offer a moral alternative to the right-wing government and hope for a just, egalitarian Israel.”
In the unlikely event that this happens, it would be historic and completely unprecedented.