Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog expressed his concern about Israel’s deteriorating international relations Friday, warning of a growing boycott and a rift with the US administration.
Herzog, head of the Labour party and the Zionist Camp alliance, made the remarks in a lecture at the London School of Economics (LSE), as an invited guest of the university’s Institute of Global Affairs.
Under tight security, and with pro-Palestinian protesters outside the building, Herzog dedicated much of his speech to what he described as an “onslaught against Israel all over the world”, including the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Herzog slammed as “totally unacceptable” moves to boycott and isolate Israel, urging the international community to “encourage negotiations, not punishments.” Declaring himself ready to “defend Israel’s good name” and be its “representative wherever it is needed”, Herzog declared: “I am here to combat it [BDS] – I am here exactly for that purpose.”
Herzog also sounded a warning about a “clear rift” between Israel and the U.S. administration, a relationship he described as a “lynchpin of Israel’s defense.”
Though the lecture was called ‘Striving for a Progressive Israel’, Herzog often struck a hawkish tone, telling his audience that “when it comes to the fight against terror” he shows “no mercy.” He also doubled down on his criticism of Netanyahu for not having hit Hamas hard enough last summer, describing the Gaza Strip as a “launching pad of missiles.”
When it came to the question of a Palestinian state, Herzog affirmed that he would seek to retain key West Bank settlement blocs as part of a ‘land swap’, stating that Gush Etzion “defends Jerusalem.” He also vowed “not to split” the latter city, which Israel calls its “eternal capital.”
The remarks were in keeping with his election campaign promises, where the Labour leader committed to keeping the Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel blocs, and described the Jordan River as Israel’s “security border.” (See here for an analysis of the Zionist Camp’s plans for a Palestinian ‘state’).
Herzog was also quizzed more than once about remarks he made earlier this month in Herzliya, when he explained his desire to “separate from the Palestinians.”
I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel. I don’t want them to change my flag and my national anthem. I don’t want them to change the name of my country to Isra-stine.
Responding to criticism, Herzog reaffirmed his position, stating he does not want a single state where there could be a “majority of Arab [MKs]”, on the basis that Israel “was created to be a safe haven for the Jewish people.” He emphasised that he “fully rules out” a one-state solution.
Herzog also defended his support for the pre-election exclusion of MK Haneen Zoabi, accusing the Balad lawmaker of “hate” and saying “unacceptable” things, a reference to Zoabi’s remarks following the kidnapping of three Israeli youths last summer.
Community and Welfare Officer Elect at LSE’s Student Union and one of those protesting, criticised the LSE administration for “playing a part in protecting the apartheid state of Israel by allowing it to promote a fake ‘democracy’.”
Herzog’s speech at LSE came a few days after Tzipi Livni made her own flying visit to London, speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit. On Monday, Herzog will be joined in the capital by Yair Lapid, with both men speaking at a conference on UK-Israeli relations.