The ascendant head of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, continued to make political waves on Tuesday, after supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list released an Internet ad featuring Holocaust-era imagery that implied that the national religious party aspires to take the country’s Orthodox citizens back to “the ghetto.”
The ad, which was strongly condemned by the Likud, was an attempt to persuade religious voters to cast Likud ballots and influence policy from within the ruling party, rather than opt for the sectarian Jewish Home and thus weaken Likud’s Knesset presence. It featured a grainy black-and-white picture of Bennett behind barbed wire next to the words “60 years!” and a modified Jewish Home logo that read “Jewish ghetto.”
“It took 60 years for the knitted skullcaps” – a reference to religious Zionists — “to free themselves from the sectarian ghetto of the National Religious Party. Sixty years until we finally succeeded in becoming integrated into the Israeli public and freeing ourselves from the isolated ghetto in which our past leaders imprisoned us,” read the ad.
The National Religious Party, or NRP, was a previous incarnation of the Jewish Home party.
“And now,” the ad continues, “Naftali Bennett wants to return us to the National Religious Party of old, ‘the religious people’s party.’ Sorry, Naftali, we prefer to be part of the Israeli public and not to isolate ourselves. Knitted skullcaps have influence from the inside. In the Likud, there are more religious and traditional Knesset members than in the Jewish Home party!”
The ad was posted to the Facebook page of a group calling itself the “Likud Supporters Street Campaign” on Tuesday morning, and on www.likudnik.co.il. The Likud supporters wrote that they were motivated by “a love of all Israel,” as opposed to Bennett, who “wants to take you back to 60 years ago with a narrow niche party vision.”
Moshe Ifergan, who created the ad, was placed in the 96th spot on the Likud’s Knesset list, the Walla news site reported. “I’m not sorry about the ad,” an unrepentant Ifergan said. “There’s only one thing I didn’t notice — that the star [in the image] is yellow.”
Bennett, in response, posted the ad to his popular Facebook page, saying he “had no words” and asking, “My brothers in the Likud, what happened to you?” The post quickly drew over 1,000 comments condemning the ad, with many speculating that the furor could ultimately prove beneficial to the Jewish Home because it cast the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list in a bad light.
The Likud-Beytenu released a statement to the effect that the party was “disgusted” by the “shocking” ad, which, it averred, was posted by a movement that had “no affiliation” with the Likud.
Likud-Beytenu also called on Bennett to file an official police complaint in order to discover the identities of those responsible, and said that the Central Elections Commission had already begun looking into ways to have the ad removed.
Last month, the Likud made its first head-on attack on Bennett, who has been seen as siphoning votes away from Netanyahu’s party, after the Jewish Home leader indicated that he would conscientiously object rather than evacuate Jewish settlers from their homes.
Since then, the two parties have been at each other’s throats.
Last week, the Central Elections Commission ordered Likud-Beytenu and several major newspapers to pay compensation to the Jewish Home party for an advertisement attacking Bennett.
The ad, which was printed in Haaretz, Maariv and Israel Hayom, and also appeared online, featured an image of the Jewish Home chair with the words “Bennett is irresponsible; he supports insubordination,” along with a quote from the television interview in which Bennett made the controversial statement about insubordination: “Conscientious objection is an intrinsic part of being a soldier.”
The ad originally ran without auttribution, but it was later confirmed that it had been funded by Likud-Beytenu. The commission determined that the anonymous nature of the ad was a violation of election laws, and ordered Likud-Beytenu, Haaretz, Maariv and Israel Hayom to each pay NIS 1,000 to the Jewish Home party.