- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

HORSE OF DIFFERENT COLOR

A top Israeli politician is battling explosive charges of racism against a political rival, expressed in talks with a U.S. diplomat and exposed in a leaked U.S. Embassy classified cable.

Isaac Herzog, now a candidate for leader of the Labor Party, has strongly denied that he uttered the comments attributed to him in the cable, which reported on a conversation between him and a visiting American official in January 2005.

The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks released the cable exclusively to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz earlier this month.

In talks with Robert Danin, then-deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Mr. Herzog ridiculed Amir Peretz, a Moroccan-born candidate for Labor Party leader at the time.

Because of his North African heritage, Mr. Peretz is a Sephardic Jew, while Mr. Herzog is an Ashkenazi Jew of European heritage.

Mr. Herzog described Mr. Peretz as “inexperienced, aggressive and Moroccan,” according to the cable. Mr. Peretz later won the leadership post and held the position until 2007.

Mr. Peretz is again a candidate for Labor leader, and Mr. Herzog is one of his top opponents.

The publication of the cable put Mr. Herzog and his Labor supporters on the defensive and revealed what one Labor insider described as the “ethnic demon” of the party, a reference to tension between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews in Israel.

Mr. Herzog insisted he was misquoted in the cable and demanded an apology from the U.S. Embassy and the current U.S. ambassador, James B. Cunningham.

“Anyone who knows me, who knows my worldviews, who has seen my actions, knows that there is no situation under which I would say these things or even think such things about any person or public figures,” Mr. Herzog told Israel Radio last week.

In the cable, Mr. Herzog reportedly also commented colorfully on other candidates for Labor Party leader in the 2005 race.

He called former Prime Minister Ehud Barak a “high horse,” retired Maj. Gen. Matan Vilnai the “dark horse,” now-87-year-old President Shimon Peres the “old horse” and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, now 75, the “dead horse.”

He is said to have referred to Mr. Peretz as a “horse of a different color.”

After the publication of the cable, Mr. Herzog scrambled to repair damage with Mr. Peretz. They held a private meeting last week in Mr. Peretz’s Tel Aviv office.

“The meeting was held in a good atmosphere, and I am glad that this episode is past us,” Mr. Herzog told reporters.

Mr. Danin, the former State Department official cited in the cable, told Ha'aretz he could not remember Mr. Herzog ever making such statements.

“I have never head him say anything that was racist, anti-Moroccan or critical of Amir Peretz,” he said.

The controversy continued this week, as Ha'aretz scolded Israeli politicians for loose talk. The newspaper said in an editorial Monday: “Israeli politicians would do well to keep from chattering today if they don’t want to have to issue denials tomorrow.”

KENYAN MARATHON

The Kenyan ambassador is crowing these days about the fleet-footed Africans from his homeland who keep winning the Boston Marathon, as a Kenyan man and woman finished first in their divisions Monday.

“I feel a great deal of pride for my country today,” Ambassador Elkanah Odembo said. “Completing the Boston Marathon, let alone winning the race, is a significant accomplishment.”

Geoffrey Mutai set a record in the Boston Marathon’s men’s division in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds. Another Kenyan, Moses Mosop, finished second four seconds later.

Caroline Kilel was first among the female runners, crossing the finish line in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 36 seconds. Sharon Cherop, yet another Kenyan, came in third in the women’s division.

The ambassador noted that male and female Kenyan runners have won the race 27 times since 1988.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.