A member of the Blue and White party defended himself against attack Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party for describing the right-wing Likud as “black” and the rival Benny Gantz-led centrist party as “white.”
The spat came less than a month before the September 17 Knesset election, where Likud and Blue and White will go head-to-head as the two largest parties.
Speaking at a cultural event on Saturday, MK Ram Ben-Barak — a former deputy director of the Mossad intelligence agency — was describing the differences in ideology between his party and Likud.
“[Likud] is against equality. It makes a clear distinction between Jews and Arab citizens of Israel. It harms the [High] Court, it in fact espouses tyranny of the majority. It says: ‘If I have 61 Knesset members, I can do whatever I want and the courts don’t interest me,'” he said, echoing criticism — frequently expressed by rival politicians — of Likud rhetoric against Arab parties, attempts to push reforms in the judiciary, and efforts to legislate a clause enabling the parliament to overrule decisions by the High Court of Justice.
“So that’s the difference [between us and Likud],” he went on. “Do you want to call it right and left? Call it right and left. Do you want to call it black and white? Call it black and white. They are black and we are white.”
Hitting back at Ben-Barak, Likud on Sunday accused him of using “racist slurs” and inaccurately claimed he had been referring to Likud voters rather than its ideology.
“This is yet another unfortunate statement by members of the Lapid-Gantz party against Likud voters,” the party said in a tweet, lumping together Ben-Barak’s comments with past left-wing criticism of Likud voters that was seen as racially charged and targeting the ruling party’s traditional and Mizrahi supporters.
“After calling us mezuzah- and amulet-kissers, after calling us baboons, now MK Ram Ben-Barak calls Likud voters ‘black.’ Our response will come in the ballot box — Likud must defeat the left’s arrogance!”
The term “mezuzah- and amulet-kissers” was referring to a speech by artist Yair Garbuz ahead of the 2015 Knesset elections, in which he referred to right-wing Israelis with that description.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party Shas, urged Blue and White to denounce the comments and said Ben-Barak should “be ashamed.”
Ben-Barak dismissed the criticism as “nonsense.”
“The intention was darkness and light; black and white; fascist and liberal. Anything else is simply not true. And it’s a pity to take it there,” he wrote on Twitter, saying his critics were “spreading hate in the nation for narrow political purposes.”