President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday denounced as “defamation” a column in the left-wing daily Haaretz opining that Israel’s national religious community was worse than the terror group Hezbollah.
“Yossi Klein’s words are defamation that exposes a vast hatred and undermines any capacity to dialogue or criticize,” the president wrote on Twitter.
“Religious Zionism is part of this land, better and more rooted than all its slanderers,” he added.
The column by Yossi Klein (Hebrew) in Wednesday’s edition of Haaretz accused the 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,” Klein wrote in his column. “What do they want? To rule the country and cleanse it of Arabs.”
Earlier Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of Haaretz for publishing Klein’s piece.
“Haaretz already some time ago became a platform that gives broad expression to the viewpoints of Israel haters, but the publication of the piece by Yossi Klein, a frustrated and unimportant journalist who also failed as an editor, crosses all the red lines,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
“I call on every citizen of Israel to stop purchasing and to stop reading the Haaretz newspaper immediately.”
On Wednesday, following the publication of Klein’s opinion piece, Haaretz drew widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum, most notably from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“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.”
Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, whose paper prides itself on being a voice of dissent, said the column was 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.”
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 nevertheless said the column deserved “every condemnation” and Yachimovich called it “inciteful, infuriating and full of indiscriminate hatred.”
However, MK Tamar Zandberg from the leftist 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.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.