Bnei Brak graffiti dubbing president a ‘Nazi’ sparks outcry

Netanyahu condemns anti-Rivlin vandalism; incident appears tied to president’s visit to ultra-Orthodox school 2 months ago

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin seen at the Talmud Torah Boston school in Bnei Brak during the opening of the new academic school year. August 23, 2017. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin seen at the Talmud Torah Boston school in Bnei Brak during the opening of the new academic school year. August 23, 2017. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Graffiti branding President Reuven Rivlin a “Nazi” was sprayed in the central city of Bnei Brak, in an apparent protest of his visit to an ultra-Orthodox elementary school there at the beginning of the school year two months ago.

A Hebrew slogan daubed on the walls of the school in the ultra-Orthodox city read, “Rivlin is a Nazi apostate.” Another seemingly referred to Rivlin’s visit to the school.

Police opened an investigation into the incident. In a statement, police said they received a complaint about the vandalism on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the graffiti, saying in a statement on Wednesday, “these kind of slogans deserve every condemnation and have no place in the public discourse in Israel.”

According to the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabat website, the vandalism was protesting Rivlin’s visit to the Boston Talmud Torah, an ultra-Orthodox institute. Many in the Haredi community reject the secular State of Israel and its officialdom, making Rivlin’s visit in late August, which took place without incident, unusual.

Lawmakers were quick to claim the graffiti was prompted by the sharp responses from some right-wing officials over a speech Rivlin gave Monday. At the opening of the Knesset winter session, the president roundly criticized politicians for undermining the justice system in their efforts to limit the power of the Supreme Court.

Rivlin’s speech drew criticism from some Knesset members, including Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) who denounced the president’s “derogatory” address as “undemocratic.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein responded to the graffiti on Wednesday, tweeting “I strongly condemn the attack on the president.”

Graffiti on a wall in Bnei Brak criticizing President Reuven Rivlin that reads ‘Rivlin is a Nazi apostate,’ October 25, 2017.

“The rotten discourse is deteriorating and may lead to injury,” he wrote. “Everyone must condemn such acts and act against incitement with a firm and merciless hand.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely tweeted that she is “shocked by the hateful slogan against President Rivlin and condemn those who wrote it. We must uproot those among us who incite to harm elected officials, from right and left.”

Opposition Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid accused Rivlin’s critics of motivating the vandalism — an apparent reference to Regev, who had continued her criticism in a Tuesday radio interview.

“To all those who incited against the president yesterday and were ‘shocked’ today by the hateful slogans against him,” Lapid wrote. “What did you think would happen?”

Zionist Union lawmaker MK Tzipi Livni echoed Lapid in attributing the blame to those who spoke out against the president.

“The graffiti against the president was written in the ink of the furious and inciting speeches against him,” she tweeted. “Enough with that!”

Opposition leader Zionist Union NK Isaac Herzog speaks during the special plenary session opening the winter session of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, October 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog hinted that Netanyahu was responsible, after the premier labeled the opposition and media “sourpusses” (literally, “pickles”) in a Monday speech.

“Here it comes — two days ago I said that we would soon be calling President Rivlin a traitor,” Herzog said. “We started with pickles and very quickly we came to Nazi apostates.”

The President’s Residence asked security services to look into threatening responses made on social media after Rivlin gave his speech, Channel 2 reported.

Speaking at the opening of the Knesset winter session on Monday, Rivlin launched a passionate defense of the judicial system and the media, saying government attempts to undermine them amount to a “coup” against the pillars of Israeli democracy.

“The Knesset is the representative of the sovereign, the people of Israel, the entire people of Israel. In this house we must remember that it is the people we must live up to. This wonderful people whom we have been privileged to serve and represent,” Rivlin told Knesset members and guests at the ceremony.

Education and Culture Minister Miri Regev, right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the special plenary session opening the winter session of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, October 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Rivlin accused political leaders of weakening state institutions by attacking them for narrow political gain.

“From the ‘political’ professional bureaucracy to the ‘political’ state comptroller, the ‘political’ Supreme Court ‘politicians,’ the ‘political’ security forces, and even the IDF, our Israel Defense Forces are ‘political’; the whole country and its institutions – politics,” he said.

Rivlin, a former Likud lawmaker, was criticized by party members for his comments.

“He hasn’t been on our side for a while,” MK David Bitan told reporters in the halls of the Knesset.

Regev also slammed Rivlin, branding him a “president who belittles politicians, belittles the will of the people and damages the heart of democracy,” she said.

Ahead of the winter sitting, several coalition lawmakers have vowed to advance a constitutional Basic Law to rein in the Supreme Court, accusing the justices of overstepping their mandate in rejecting Knesset legislation in a series of recent rulings.

Speaking at the weekly faction meeting of his Jewish Home party, flanked by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday accused the Supreme Court, which doubles as the constitutional High Court of Justice, of “forgetting” its role and placing the judiciary above the legislative branch.

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