PM insists on impartiality, while Herzog warns against meddling in US election

Opposition leader accuses Netanyahu proxies of interference, says ‘Israeli politicians should stay out of American business’

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 6, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 6, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his impartial stance on the US elections, telling a meeting of his Likud faction that bilateral ties would remain intact whoever wins on Tuesday.

“Whatever the result, the relationship between Israel and the US will remain strong and steadfast,” the prime minister said, a day after instructing cabinet ministers to refrain from commenting on the election.

Stressing that the relationship was based on both “joint values” and “joint interests,” Netanyahu said the American public views Israel as its strongest ally.

“A recent Gallup poll showed that the US support for Israel gets stronger and stronger ever year,” he said. “I’ll repeat what I said in Congress last year: Israel has no better friend than the US and the US has no better friend than Israel.”

The prime minister’s comments came shortly after opposition leader Isaac Herzog urged him not to take sides in the elections. Such Israeli interference, Herzog said at a meeting of his Zionist Union faction, “will only damage the Israeli public.”

Then prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, right, stands with then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before their meeting in Jerusalem March 3, 2009. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)
Then prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, right, stands with then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before their meeting in Jerusalem March 3, 2009. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

Calling the race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump “the most important election in the world,” Herzog said all Israeli politicians should stay out of America’s business.

“Recently there have again been reports of Israeli leaders interfering in the elections through overseas proxies,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“I call on Netanyahu to instruct those close to him to make sure no damage is done,” he said, without elaborating or naming any alleged culprits.

During the previous US elections in 2012 Netanyahu was accused of leaning toward Republican candidate Mitt Romney and, in subtle ways, trying to aid his campaign for the White House.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaks at a rally marking 21 years since the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on November 5, 2016. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaks at a rally marking 21 years since the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on November 5, 2016. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)

At the same Zionist Union meeting, the first after Saturday’s Tel Aviv rally in memory of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Herzog said that if hatred and incitement had been dealt with appropriately 21 years ago, the assassination could have been prevented.

“I will not allow anyone to spread hatred – not the head of the coalition, not a minister, no one,” he said, referencing coalition chair David Bitan’s statement that Rabin’s assassination was “not political.” Denouncing Bitan’s comments, which came shortly before the rally, became the central theme of the memorial.

“Twenty-one years after that terrible night we continue to hear incitement against soldiers, journalist judges, police — anyone who doesn’t think like those spreading the hate,” Herzog said. “We will petition the attorney general, the relevant courts and the Supreme Court to stop this disease.”

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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