Former PM later posts conciliatory tweet

Amsalem: Netanyahu harmed dignity of right-wing bloc with refusal to back me

Likud MK says unacceptable that party leader distanced himself after comments about Supreme Court’s Hayut; leadership hopeful Barkat says would have ‘behaved differently’ to ex-PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition chairman David Amsalem at a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition chairman David Amsalem at a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK David Amsalem attacked opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, saying that he “damaged the dignity” of the right-wing bloc by distancing himself after the lawmaker’s incendiary comments about Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut.

Netanyahu later Wednesday posted a conciliatory tweet, highlighting his friendship with Amsalem.

Last week, Amsalem raged against the court from the Knesset plenum, alleging that petitions he had filed were rejected by the bench due to discrimination against Jews of Middle Eastern or North African extraction.

Amsalem’s comments prompted an open letter from Hayut, followed a few hours later by a statement from Netanyahu saying that he had spoken to the Supreme Court chief justice, and that the comments by his longtime confidant were unacceptable.

“I do not in any way accept that he called Hayut, it is not right. He has damaged the dignity of the national camp,” Amsalem told the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday, using a phrase used to describe the right-wing bloc.

“There was a lot of hypocrisy and lies, but no response about the real meaning of what I said. Cheeky people talk about my style and tell me how to talk,” Amsalem added.

“Likud is the only democratic party. It is clear that you can’t imagine anyone saying such things about Lapid or Liberman,” Amsalem said, naming the heads of the Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties respectively, and apparently referring to the lack of primaries held for those factions’ slates. Yesh Atid scrapped plans last year for its first leadership primary after nobody put their name forward to run against Lapid.

“I told the former prime minister that if he says his personal opinion, it is okay to disagree with me in one way or another,” Amsalem said.

A few hours later, Netanyahu posted a conciliatory tweet with a photo of himself and Amsalem and the Song of Songs quote “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” a play on the Hebrew spelling of Amsalem’s nickname.

Likud MK Nir Barkat, who has long sought to position himself as a successor to Netanyahu and who has clashed with Amsalem on a number of occasions, also weighed into the matter, saying on Wednesday that he would have dealt with the situation in a different manner to his party leader.

“My way is different, I behave differently,” Barkat told the Walla news site. “I always try to be stately.”

MK David Amsalem (right) and then-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Other unnamed Likud MKs were said to be fuming with Netanyahu for the statement and phone call to Hayut. Likud sources told Channel 12 news last week that they believed Netanyahu was more concerned with his personal legal issues — he is on trial for graft in three separate cases — than the party’s political interests.

However, sources close to Netanyahu claimed that the ex-premier, a vociferous critic of the court, had rejected Amsalem’s racially tinged attacks, and not his criticism of the justices in general.

Last week, Amsalem gave a typically fiery speech in the Knesset claiming he had been discriminated against due to his background.

“Instead of writing pointless nonsense that you yourself don’t understand, write ‘Mr. Amsalem, I can’t stand you, can’t stand either the Amsalems or the Machlufs, and I will not give you assistance as [the judicial system] is ours and you do not belong in our norms and our world,’” Amsalem said in comments aimed at Hayut.

Likud MK David Amsalem speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amsalem said Hayut was belittling all those whose names don’t end with “vich” — a reference to Ashkenazi Euro-centric names — called the Supreme Court “corrupt,” and suggested Hayut and others were drunk on arak, an aniseed-flavored liquor popular in the Middle East.

In an open letter to Amsalem released on Thursday morning, Hayut wrote it was “with regret that I heard the defamatory words” against herself and her fellow judges, and noted it was not the first time Amsalem had attacked her.

“Nothing is further from the truth than to say that I can’t stand the Amsalems and Machlufs,” she wrote. “I wonder where this poison and hatred comes from that leads to you say such things about people that you don’t know at all.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the court in Jerusalem, on May 4, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

In response, Amsalem said Hayut’s “nonsense” was making matters worse.

Hours later, Netanyahu said he had spoken to Hayut and distanced himself from Amsalem’s comments. “I made it clear that MK Dudi Amsalem’s words are not acceptable to me, do not reflect my position, and were said without my knowledge,” Netanyahu said in a statement, using the lawmaker’s nickname.

In December, Hayut said in a missive to Israel’s judges that ongoing attacks on the justice system by politicians “should trouble all those who care about the independence of the judicial system.”

That letter came after Amsalem, known for his brash style, attacked Supreme Court Justice David Mintz for a ruling he issued on a petition Amsalem filed, suggesting the jurist was inebriated when he wrote it.

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