An opinion piece in daily newspaper Haaretz that called Israel’s national religious community worse than terror group Hezbollah drew widespread condemnation Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others calling on the left-leaning broadsheet to apologize.

The column by writer Yossi Klein accused Israel’s national religious community, usually characterized by its hawkish views and attachment to the settlement enterprise, of deceitfully attempting to take over and subvert the country, while carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

“The national religious are dangerous. More dangerous than Hezbollah, more than drivers in car-ramming attacks or girls with scissors (referring to a stabbing terror attack by a Palestinian teenage girl). The Arabs can be neutralized, but they cannot,” he wrote. “What do they want? To rule the country and cleanse it of Arabs.”

The article was met with anger from members of the national religious community, including several government ministers, as well as more centrist politicians.

“The article in Haaretz is disgraceful,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook late Wednesday. “The national religious community is the salt of the earth, their sons and daughters serve in the army and national volunteer service for the state of Israel and the security of Israel. I am proud of them like the rest of the country’s citizens. Haaretz needs to apologize.”

A copy of Israeli broadsheet Haaretz on March 2, 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

A copy of Israeli broadsheet Haaretz on March 2, 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, whose paper prides itself on being a voice of dissent, said the column was actually similar to one he had published six years earlier accusing the national religious community of practicing apartheid, a piece that also drew fire at the time.

“I can’t figure out what all the excitement is (Pavlovian, I must say) over Yossi Klein’s column,” he wrote on Twitter.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party that is seen as a political home for many in the national religious community, told Channel 2 news that he had received complaints from two families of fallen soldiers saying that the article was harmful.

“Not national religious, or leftists, or Arabs or any other group deserves a writer making an abusive, stupid accusation like this,” he wrote on Facebook. “Before it ends in blood, Haaretz, stop.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also from Jewish Home, wrote on Facebook that she received a message from the mother of Benaya Rein, killed in the Second Lebanon War that Israel fought against Hezbollah in 2006, calling Klein a racist and asking her to let him know that her son died “so he could continue being a journalist.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks during a meeting with party supporters in Netanya, March 19, 2017. (Flash90)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks during a meeting with party supporters in Netanya, March 19, 2017. (Flash90)

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, called the column “anti-Semitic,” asking rhetorically if a number of national religious Israelis, including fellow lawmakers, were more dangerous than the terror group.

But the backlash to the column also drew its own backlash, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog and MK Shelly Yachimovich, both of the Zionist Union party, accusing Netanyahu of using similar language against Arabs, union members and others.

Herzog still said the column deserved “every condemnation” and Yachimovich called it “inciteful, infuriating and full of indiscriminate hatred.”

However, MK Tamar Zandberg from the left-wing Meretz party criticized the uniform responses of politicians on both sides ends of the spectrum:

“I would be more excited by the nationalist shock over Klein if Bennett or [Netanyahu] — you know what, [Herzog] or Shelly — would tweet when leftists are called traitors or chicken shit.”