Israeli actress Yael Abecassis sparked a firestorm on Thursday when she added her support to popular local reality TV host Rotem Sela, who had drawn criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attacking his election campaign’s attitude toward Israel’s Arab minority.
“Rightists do not represent humanity,” the actress said in an interview with Army Radio. “They cause division and incitement to civil war.”
“The opinion of Rotem Sela is the opinion of the majority,” Abecassis said, adding that Netanyahu’s response to her was “miserable.”
“It’s no longer right or left, it’s humanity against insanity,” Abecassis said, according to Channel 13. “The right’s incitement against the left is so deep and hard that it has already wounded us.”
“Racist and inciting voices come from the right,” she later added.
In response, the leader of the far-right National Union party, MK Bezalel Smotrich, tweeted that Abecassis’s words would lead to an increase in support for parties on the right.
“Where does all this goodness come from? Yael joins [Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid’s advertising campaign that gives us — the racists, the inciters and the inhuman — more and more seats. Thank God. Thank you very much. Keep going.”
Earlier in the week, Netanyahu engaged in a social media argument with Sela, who had criticized his Likud party’s anti-Arab rhetoric. Rotem spoke up after Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev in a Saturday TV interview repeated a frequent Likud claim that rival Blue and White party leader Gantz will try to form a government with Arab parties.
“What is the problem with the Arabs???” 35-year-old model and actress Sela wrote on Instagram. “Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human,” she said.
Netanyahu shot back on his own Instagram account: “Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”
“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population,” he added, but immediately went on to claim, once again, that a Gantz-led government that included the Arab parties would “undercut the state’s security.”
Sela said she received an outburst of fiery comments criticizing her post, and in another post said the “disgusting” responses “will never prevent me from voicing my opinion.”
Arab lawmakers came to Sela’s defense.
“Rotem Sela, we don’t know each other but bravo,” said Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh.
“The very fact that a senior media personality like Rotem Sela needs courage to say Arabs are also humans is a testament to the dark times in which we’re living,” said the party’s No. 2 Ahmad Tibi, who has been a frequent target for Netanyahu’s attacks.
Actress Gal Gadot also defended Sela.
“This isn’t a matter of left or right, Jew or Arab, secular of religious, it’s about dialogue for peace and equality, and our tolerance for one another,” Gadot wrote on her Instagram page, which is followed by some 28.2 million people.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” said Gadot, who famously played the role of Wonder Woman in the film of the same name and has championed women’s rights off-screen. “The responsibility to sow hope and light for a better future for our children lies with us.”
“Rotem, sister, you inspire all of us,” she finished.
On Sunday, the Anti Defamation League lambasted political rhetoric “vilifying” Arab Israelis.
“The role of Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset is increasingly emerging as a key wedge of the current election campaign, with several party leaders and politicians vowing not to include them in any future coalition, while accusing their political foes of a willingness to do so,” Carole Nuriel, director of the ADL’s Israel office, said in a statement.
AP contributed to this report.