The defeated head of the Zionist Union on Saturday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “resorting to racism” en route to his victory in Tuesday’s elections.
Netanyahu, whose Likud party won 30 seats and is set to form the next coalition, “resorted to lies, incitement and racism” to secure his victory, said defeated challenger Isaac Herzog, whose Zionist Union won 24 seats.
Herzog was referring to Netanyahu’s declaration on election day that Arabs were voting “in droves” and that his supporters had to go out and cast ballots or risk Herzog, the Israeli left and Israeli Arabs from ending Netanyahu’s hold on power. Herzog said Netanyahu had humiliated and hurt Israel’s Arab community, and must reach out to the community and make a genuine effort to correct the damage. “He used the most false and the most racist language, and it worked,” Herzog said bitterly.
Netanyahu’s comment about Israeli Arabs has prompted angry criticism from the White House, from some of Netanyahu’s rivals at home, and from US Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders, among others.
In an interview with Channel 2 News, Herzog made clear that the Labor-led Zionist Union would not sit in the new coalition — “I’ll be head of the opposition,” he said — and added that he still hoped and believed he’d be Israel’s prime minister in the future.
Netanyahu “lies to the public time and again… and drips toxin,” charged Herzog. The Zionist Union leader said that the incoming right-wing coalition “will lead to a dead end” for Israel, and that “maybe the public will sober up” next time.
Herzog said his party’s own polls had shown him to be five seats ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud as late as noon on election day. Even when the TV exit polls as voting ended showed the two parties tied, he had expected that he would be able to form a coalition, and not Netanyahu, he said. Only overnight Tuesday-to-Wednesday did the actual vote count show the decisive margin of Netanyahu’s victory.
“Who knows what price Israel will pay” for Netanyahu’s election tactics, Herzog added, presumably referring to Netanyahu’s rejection last Monday of the notion of Palestinian statehood, a position he walked back on Thursday, but one which has prompted the US to warn that it is considering reevaluating its policies on the Palestinian conflict and on support for Israel on the Palestinian issue at the UN.
Earlier Saturday, Herzog’s predecessor as Labor Party leader, Shelly Yachimovich, said the party would need to reflect on its place in Israeli society if it wants to return to a leadership position in the country.
Labor has not led the government since Ehud Barak was defeated in the 2001 prime ministerial election.
Justin Jalil contributed to this report.