Yitzhak Herzog
Yitzhak Herzog Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

Opposition leader and head of the Labor party MK Yitzhak Herzog caused an uproar in his own party on Tuesday, when he said that Labor must change its public image and stop being viewed by the public as “loving Arabs”.

Speaking at a party conference in Ashkelon, Herzog said, according to Haaretz, “Where do we enter into the hearts of the public? By making them believe we have not only the experience but also the ability to change the situation in the country, without abandoning the security of Israel, G-d forbid, and without giving the feeling – which I encounter during meetings with a myriad of Israelis – that we always love the Arabs. It’s complicated, but it's part of the deal, it's part of the challenge. We are a party that always knew how to be a ruling party.”

Herzog's remarks aroused the anger of party member MK Zuhair Bahloul, who equated Herzog's statement to what Prime Minister Binaymin Netanyahu said on election day, when he “warned” that Arab citizens of Israel were turning out en masse to the polling stations.

“Apparently inspired by the ‘Arabs flocking to the polls’ statement, Herzog is also preparing a juicy slogan for his next campaign,” charged Bahloul.

“Disavowing yourself of 20% of the population so blatantly, pretending to be a soft rightist and becoming stressed out over every poll – is not the way to produce an alternative to power,” he added.

“This is another incomprehensible demoralization of the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin; I condemn Herzog’s remarks and demand an apology on behalf of the Arab society in Israel,” said Bahloul.

Herzog has repeatedly irked his party members in recent months by appearing to be turning towards the right, mainly through his public declarations that it is currently impossible to reach the two-state solution.

His remarks also angered MK Shelly Yechmovich, who will likely challenge Herzog for the leadership of the Labor party and who tweeted following the publication in Haaretz, “An appropriate response by the head of the opposition to the demonstration of the extreme right?”

Herzog’s office responded to the criticism by saying, “We are not afraid to deal with the problems that we find in the attitude of the public to the Labor party and the Zionist Union. One of those problems is the false and dangerous feeling that we take into account the needs of the Palestinians before the needs of the State of Israel and its citizens. A false sense obviously, but it costs us among audiences who did not know us before the last election and which it is important for us to reach.”