Center-left party leaders Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid castigated Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party on Saturday as including dangerous extremists. They both focused on a 2011 speech in Florida by American-born Jeremy Gimpel, 14th on the Jewish Home list, in which he apparently rejoiced at the possibility of the Dome of Rock on the Temple Mount being blown up, and the cornerstone of a third Jewish Temple laid in its place.
Gimpel said later Saturday the clip was misleading, and that he had been telling “a few jokes.” He urged people to watch the entire speech. On Sunday, he said that section of his speech had been “a kind of parody about the fanatics who want to blow up the Temple Mount,” and that no one in his party calls for violence on the Temple Mount.
In separate interviews on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” Saturday, three days before Tuesday’s general elections, Livni, leader of the Hatnua party, and Yesh Atid leader Lapid, both referred to Gimpel’s speech and warned of the “extremist” vision of Israel it and the Jewish Home party represented.
Later Saturday, Hatnua appealed to the Central Elections Committee to bar Gimpel from running for the Knesset because of his alleged incitement. The request, submitted by Hatnua’s Yoel Hasson, was unlikely to succeed. Appeals to bar far-right and far-left politicians failed earlier in the campaign.
Jewish Home is heading for about 12-14 seats in the elections, according to polls, which means Gimpel could gain a Knesset seat. Yesh Atid is set to win about 11-12 seats and Hatnua 7-9.
In his speech, part of which was broadcast on Channel 2 on Friday night, Gimpel urges his audience in a Florida church to imagine “the golden dome” — the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine atop the mount, the site of the biblical Jewish temples in Jerusalem’s Old City. “Let’s say the dome was blown up and we laid the cornerstone of the temple,” Gimpel says with enthusiasm. He tells the Christian audience that they’d surely all rush to be in Israel if that happened. He adds that since he is being recorded, he is refraining from expressing more radical sentiments.
In another section of the same speech, Gimpel compares US President Barack Obama to Persian King Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther, and expressed outrage at the “building freeze” Obama had been seeking in Jerusalem.
Gimpel defended himself by claiming that what he said were his jokes, made to spruce up his lecture to a Christian group, were taken out of context.
“This lecture was given to a Christian group as I was teaching about the book of Ezra, a story that happened over 2,000 years ago,” Gimpel’s spokesman told the The Times of Israel. “In order to make the lecture more lively I made a few jokes and you clearly hear the audience laughing. This is a cheap political attack and I would urge anyone to watch the video in its entirety and decide for yourselves.”
Bennett complained later that only a “segment” of Gimpel’s speech had been shown on TV, said his candidate “didn’t call for anything” to actually be done on Temple Mount, and said he was “proud” of Gimpel and stood behind all the candidates on his Knesset slate.
Asked twice about Gimpel’s comments in an interview at the end of the program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no direct response, saying only, “My positions are known.. and they are firm and responsible.”
Livni noted that Bennett’s party has representatives “who want to blow up the Temple Mount.” She said Jewish Home represents “a state [of Israel] run according to religious Jewish law, an extremist state” and added that she wouldn’t sit in a governing coalition with the Jewish Home party. “I won’t be a fig leaf in an extremist right-wing, Orthodox government,” she made clear.
Lapid said he agreed with Bennett on many issues, but that the Jewish Home party is “very Orthodox” and that others on the Jewish Home Knesset slate are “homophobic… and people who want to blow up the Temple Mount.”
Labor party chair Shelly Yachimovich, on the same program, described Bennett as “a right-wing extremist.”
Bennett, later in the program, defended Gimpel and attacked what he said were left-wing extremist candidates on the Labor and Hatnua lists.
In interviewing the various party leaders, the two-hour Channel 2 program Saturday night was the closest thing to a debate during the election campaign. But although some of the leaders put recorded questions to each other, there was no direct interaction between them.