A top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu avoided apologizing for disparaging comments he made about “non-Ashkenazi” Israelis, and boasted about having Mizrahi grandchildren, in a statement Sunday aimed at minimizing the damage of recorded remarks he made that were leaked to the press Saturday, two days before the elections.
Natan Eshel could be heard saying “hate is what unites” the right-wing camp led by the Likud party, and that negative campaigning works well with “non-Ashkenazi” voters, in the tape broadcast by Channel 12 on Saturday. He also called Likud minister Miri Regev an “animal,” while noting that she is particularly effective at riling up the party base.
Eshel issued an initial statement blasting the recording as “lies,” though it was unclear what exactly he was disputing as his voice could clearly be heard on the tape. As the comments continued to make headlines on Sunday morning, with senior members of the aide’s own party, including Netanyahu, distancing themselves from him, Eshel issued an additional statement.
“I’m a proud grandfather to Moroccan grandchildren. I am ashamed of the many years of white tribal behavior and its damage to the wonderful heritage of the people of Mizrahi communities. [They] are justified in their anger, and the first to recognize this and admit the mistake [of the discrimination against them] was [former Likud prime minister] Menachem Begin.”
Avoiding an actual apology, however, Eshel added that “excerpts and words [of his] were taken out of context only to harm Likud.”
Aryeh Deri, who chairs the Shas party, known for representing ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi voters, told the Kan public broadcaster that Eshel had also texted him to let him know that he has Mizrahi grandchildren.
Eshel, a former Netanyahu chief of staff who resigned in 2012 amid allegations that he used a surreptitiously placed camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague, continues to work with the premier, leading the previous two coalition negotiations over the past year.
In the newly revealed recording, he can be heard discussing the party’s campaign strategy with an unnamed person whom he is trying to recruit as a political adviser, according to the report. In the tape, Eshel says that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases actually helped the premier in his campaign. “He went up by 20 percent” Eshel recalls, though it was unclear what numbers he was referring to.
“If you haven’t stolen, what exactly have you come [into politics] for? We’ve checked this. And to my shock, they [the public] does not understand [this notion] of going into politics to do what’s good for the nation. You go into politics in order to steal and you need to be a man,” Eshel claims, not yet specifying which public he was referring to.
“Now, in this public, I’ll call it… non-Ashkenazi…What gets them worked up? Why do they hate the press?… They hate everything and we’ve succeeded in whipping up that hatred. Hatred is what unites our camp,” Eshel says plainly.
In the recording, the Netanyahu confidant then goes on to explain that Likud minister Miri Regev is “excellent” at “stirring up” Likud supporters. Eshel recognized that Regev is “a beast” but works effectively as if she were standing in a stadium at a soccer match and waving her hands in order to inflame the crowd.
The Likud party appeared to accept that the recording was genuine, but asserted in a statement that “it is impossible to compare Nathan Eshel’s erroneous private opinion when he has no role in the Likud campaign to the shocking testimony of Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz’s senior adviser, Israel Bachar, who says Gantz is a danger to Israel and does not deserve to be prime minister.”
Bachar, in a recording leaked to Channel 12 on Thursday, could be heard saying that Gantz does not have the courage to attack Iran and could pose a danger to Israel’s security.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu was forced to apologize to a prominent religious-Zionist rabbi, Chaim Druckman, after Eshel was recorded mocking him and the Yamina party that views him as a religious leader.
In the recording, Eshel appears to mock Druckman with the dismissive Yiddish prefix “sh,” saying, “Druckman Shmuckman.”
Eshel later explained in a statement that he had spoken in “slang” and meant nothing by the comment.