According to a WikiLeaks cable released on Wednesday, Member of Knesset Yitzhak Herzog (Labor) called fellow Labor lawmaker and then-party head Amir Peretz an “inexperienced and aggressive Moroccan.”
The discriminatory remarks were allegedly make during a January 2006 meeting with United States diplomats.
MK Herzog also told the Americans during the meeting that he was optimistic that the Labor faction’s situation had improved, with a new party list that included Ashkenazi lawmakers, in order “to balance out Peretz’s Sephardi background.”
The term “Ashkenazi” refers to ethnic Jews who lived in most of Europe during the nearly 2,000 year exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. “Sephardi” generally refers to those Jews who spent the exile in Spain, the Middle East and North African countries.
Since the re-establishment of Jewish statehood in 1948, the country’s ruling elite has been almost exclusively Ashkenazi while the lower classes, often perceived as more nationalist and less educated, has been largely Sephardi.
While Sephardi Jews have in recent decades succeeded in entering the upper echelons of politics, academia and the judicial establishment, this success has been marred by a sense of having to abandon Sephardi culture in favor of adopting Ashkenazi behavioral norms, which some argue includes a willingness to submit to international pressure and surrender territory to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.
MK Herzog’s January 2006 meeting took place only months after then-United States President George W. Bush succeeded in pressuring Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (Likud) to relinquish the Gaza region and forcibly expel its Jewish inhabitants.
American diplomats expressed concern to Herzog that Amir Peretz’s Sephardi background would complicate Western plans to force Israel to also surrender the Samaria and Judea regions.
The leaked cable also reveals that the American diplomats questioned Herzog regarding the attitude of Likud leader and now-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu towards the PA, as well as his intentions regarding Judea and Samaria.
According to the cable, Herzog responded that Netanyahu “is not a peace refusenik, he is a peace manipulator,” implying that the Americans could successfully pressure him to relinquish territory.
Herzog is one of the Labor members currently competing to take over the faction’s leadership role after Defense Minister Ehud Barak bolted to form his new Atzmaut party.
The publishing of the cable prompted outrage among Labor parliamentarians on Wednesday, specifically from MK Eitan Cabel, who said that “Herzog is not a qualified candidate to head the Labor party.”