Zionist Union leader claims Netanyahu fought dirty

Zionist Union leader claims Netanyahu fought dirty

Herzog cites a flood of ‘violent’ text messages and ‘lies, fear-mongering and malice’ for the Likud victory

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 2 as Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog sits in the studio, March 14, 2015 (Channel 2 News)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 2 as Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog sits in the studio, March 14, 2015 (Channel 2 News)

Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog defended his losing campaign Thursday on Israel Radio, praising his party for its achievements in the election and deriding what he said were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear tactics that netted him the win.

Netanyahu’s victory came after a heated campaign in which late polls showed the prime minister set to be ousted after six years in power. However, the final tally from Tuesday’s vote, published Thursday, showed Likud had won 30 seats compared to the Zionist Union’s 24.

When asked on Israel Radio where he thinks his campaign went wrong, Herzog responded, “I’m not sure we did mess up.”

“The results we received,” he said, “there haven’t been any like them since olden times.”

In the 2013 elections, the Labor party, then headed by Shelly Yachimovich, won just 15 seats in the Knesset. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, which joined with Labor to create the Zionist Union list, garnered just six seats in that election.

The center-left has not won an election since 1996, when Shimon Peres led the party to 34 seats against Netanyahu’s 32.

But while he praised his party, Herzog could not resist the opportunity to criticize the Likud campaign.

In the few days before the election, Herzog said, Netanyahu started “a campaign based on a lot of lies, fear-mongering, malice.”

Herzog claimed that while he ran a clean campaign, “Netanyahu decided to lie.”

“He’s allowed to do that in a campaign,” Herzog said.

“There was a flood of text messages, violent and blunt, that spoke about droves of Arabs going to the ballots,” Herzog said.

“There were text messages that Hamas wanted [the Zionist Union] to win,” he said. “Text messages that Iran was at the gates.”

“What wasn’t there?” he lamented.

Netanyahu has been accused of race-baiting for speaking out against Arab voters being bused to polling stations as he pleaded for support during voting Tuesday.

Herzog also discussed the deleterious effect of Yair Garbuz’s speech at a left-wing rally in Tel Aviv in which Garbuz claimed “amulet kissers and pagan worshipers” — understood to mean religious Israelis — are controlling the country.

“Without a shadow of a doubt” that hurt his party’s chances, he said.

The vote, Herzog also told Army Radio, showed that “the nation wants an extreme right-wing government.”

“We will challenge it,” he added, referring to his role in the opposition.

Herzog stressed what he described as the negative effect Netanyahu has had on Israel’s relationship with the international community.

“We can’t clean up after him [anymore],” Herzog said.

Herzog also brushed aside criticism that he came off as weak during an impromptu debate broadcast on Channel 2 Saturday night, saying he could not control the fact that Netanyahu, piped in via live feed, was put on a massive screen behind him.

Herzog, who sat in the studio, had to swivel between the cameras, the hostess and the out-sized image of the prime minister.

“I’m not responsible that they projected him on a big screen behind me,” he said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also took aim at Netanyahu’s pre-election rhetoric, saying the prime minister’s reversal of his previous support for the creation of a Palestinian state was “very worrisome.”

At a special meeting Thursday of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas said, “We don’t see a serious attempt from the Israeli government toward peace that will lead to the establishment of two states.”

Palestinian officials believe they can now build a stronger case for international pressure on Israel because of Netanyahu’s hard-line positions. Earlier this year, the Palestinians applied to join the International Criminal Court in pursuit of war crimes charges against Israel, and the Palestinians are seeking more involvement from the United Nations in their quest for statehood.

“We have the full right to approach any international party in order to gain our rights and so international legitimacy will be achieved,” Abbas said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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