The Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol on Monday derided “mezuzah-kissing” Jews as “fools” and likened Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett to the Nazis.
The remarks came in defense of Israeli painter and political pundit Yair Garbuz, who caused an uproar for saying two days ago at a rally in Tel Aviv that “amulet kissers and pagan worshipers” are controlling the country.
Sobol told Israel Radio: “Those who kiss mezuzahs, it’s their problem and their family’s problem, what can I say. This is not a problem of the right-wing or left-wing. There are fools in all sorts of communities.”
The mezuzah is a small parchment scroll affixed to the doorpost and containing the text of the “Shema Yisrael” prayer. Religious believers commonly kiss the fixture upon entering or leaving a room or building.
The playwright also took a direct jab at Bennett for his “no apologies” political campaign.
“If Bennett declared that we are canceling the feelings of guilt from now on in Israeli society, he’s not, by the way, the first to call for banishing feelings of guilt. In 1933, when the National Socialist group rose to power in Germany, one of the first laws they enacted was a law to banish guilt,” he said.
In response, Bennett wrote on Facebook: “Joshua Sobol and Yair Garbuz, I am a foolish and proud mezuzah-kisser.”
Sobol later explained his position further in an interview on Channel 2, saying that Garbuz had listed “all of Israeli society’s ills,” including capitalistic greed and the sexual offenses of several senior ranking police officers, alongside those who believe in “superstitions.”
“Among other things, it’s superstitions. It spreads like a disease. He called it ‘amulet kissers’ but he also listed a long list of other ills, such as piggish capitalism, those who steal public funds, and serial [sexual] harassers in the police,” Sobel said.
The playwright brushed aside criticism to the effect that he, and Garbuz, were racist, and said that the problem extended to both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.
“It’s not a matter of ethnicity,” he declared. “For example, in the past there was a rabbi that both Ashkenazim and Sephardim went to, from all ethnic groups. It’s a universal disease that does not belong to one particular community.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the outcry on Monday, saying: “I heard someone speak of people who kiss mezuzot with disdain. Since when is it a crime to kiss a mezuzah?
“We know where we came from and we know what country we came back to. We know what we are fighting to keep. We know about our tradition and about our heritage,” he said. Other right-wing politicians seized on Garbuz’s comments to accuse the Israeli left of elitism and entrenched racism.
Garbuz had told thousands of demonstrators in Rabin Square on Saturday night that the country had been taken over by “handfuls” of extremists.
“They told us, and wanted us to believe,” that right-wing extremists were merely a “handful,” Garbuz said, along with “the thieves and bribe-takers,” “the corrupt and hedonistic,” “the destroyers of democracy,” “those who think democracy is the tyranny of the majority,” and “the kissers of amulets, idol-worshipers, and those who prostrate themselves on the graves of the saints.”
“If all these are just a handful,” Garbuz continued, “how does this handful rule over us? How is it that without anyone noticing or interfering, this, the handful became a majority?”
The speech drew condemnation from across the political spectrum, with accusations that Garbuz’s comments against the religious were “arrogant” and “racist.”
A statement from the center-left Zionist Union, which was meant to be the main beneficiary of Saturday’s rally, noted that “the event and its speakers were not arranged by us, and we condemn the statements that attacked a community for its faith.”
One Likud Knesset candidate, Ofir Akunis, said Sunday that “Garbuz exposed the real face of the Israeli left: the arrogance, the disdain for the other, the disregard for any opinion that doesn’t match their worldview, which sanctifies withdrawals and concessions.”
Akunis said the speech was “a sequel to Dudu Topaz’s speech” from June 1971, an address by the late entertainer who said at the time he was “happy to see no browns in the crowd.” Former prime minister Menachem Begin, a day later, accused Topaz of racism and swept the crowd with his words “Ashkenazi? Iraqi? Jews! Brothers!”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.