Herzog: The word ‘traitor’ must be struck from political discourse

Speaking on anniversary of Rabin assassination, president condemns ‘accusations of treason’ which serve only to ‘imperil our democracy’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a conference at the University of Haifa, on November 4, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at a conference at the University of Haifa, on November 4, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog condemned incendiary language that has dominated politics in recent months and said the word “traitor” should be erased from the political discourse.

“I am shocked by the thought that today, November 4 — a date on which we learned where words can lead — I need to stand here and say again: the word ‘traitor’ must be struck out of the political discourse, and everywhere,” Herzog said at a conference on Thursday at the University of Haifa. “Coalition and opposition, left and right. Accusations of treason imperil our democracy.”

November 4 marks the anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the leadup to his assassination, Rabin was often labeled a traitor by opposing politicians and right-wing forces for his support of the Oslo Accords, and the atmosphere of incitement has been blamed for motivating his assassin, Yigal Amir. Many of the protests against Rabin in the 1990s included chants such as, “Rabin the traitor,” and images of the former prime minister wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf in addition to a makeshift coffin with his name on it.

Earlier this week, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has betrayed the State of Israel.

Gafni called Bennett “an opportunist who wants it to be written down that he was prime minister,” and said the prime minister “betrayed his voters and betrayed the State of Israel.”

Opposition politicians have worked to delegitimize the current government, which took office in June, ousting former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in power.

Opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Knesset on October 18, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Last month, Netanyahu alleged that Bennett was “not a real prime minister,” and compared him to a toddler pretending to be the pilot of an airplane. “He may be prime minister by title but he isn’t a real prime minister,” Netanyahu said. “It isn’t cute, it’s pathetic and even dangerous. It’s all pretending.”

Meanwhile, inside the coalition, accusations of incitement have also flared, in particular around the ceremonies held last month to mark the Hebrew date of Rabin’s assassination.

Speaking in the Knesset, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid alleged that far-right members of Knesset are the “ideological heirs” of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. In response, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked condemned the “wild incitement” made during speeches at the ceremony.

For his part, Netanyahu condemned the usage of the word “traitor” and rejected allegations that he supported such language before Rabin was killed — accusations that have long been lobbed at the former prime minister. “From the Knesset podium, a month before the assassination, I said unequivocally — the phenomenon of calling Israeli leaders ‘murderers’ and ‘traitors’… is wrong, was always wrong, and we condemn it every time,” Netanyahu said last month.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed