Demoted Likud MK Amsalem accuses Netanyahu of racism, ‘humiliating’ Sephardic voters

Most senior party lawmaker not to receive a portfolio accuses PM of deliberate snub: ‘No one will humiliate us Mizrahi Jews, not even a prime minister from Likud’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK David Amsalem lashed out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, accusing him of racism and “humiliating” Sephardic party supporters after he was snubbed in the allocation of cabinet portfolios.

Amsalem, the most high-profile Likud MK not to get a ministerial position as Netanyahu formed his government, had been demanding to be either justice minister or Knesset speaker and apparently refused other positions after being denied both.

Speaking to supporters gathered outside his home on Friday, Amsalem — in a rare open show of dissent from a Likud MK — said it was not a personal snub, but rather one against all Sephardic Jews.

“The one who decided not to give me a portfolio was the prime minister,” Amsalem said, accusing Netanyahu of spinning “Ali Baba” excuses to explain why he could not be Knesset speaker.

“You can’t humiliate David Amsalem, I’m a team player, but this humiliation was aimed directly at me,” he said.

Amsalem said he asked Netanyahu why he was not getting a top position, even though he was chosen in the 4th place in the Likud primaries. “Where is David Amsalem? Are you passing over me? What did I do? What sin have I committed?”

Amsalem accused Netanyahu of specifically targeting him because he is a Sephardic Jew.

“You don’t humiliate me. You don’t humiliate us Sephardim. Never! No one will humiliate us Mizrahi Jews, not even a prime minister from Likud,” he said, claiming that Sephardic Jews make up 70 percent of Likud supporters.

“We don’t have to apologize for coming in fourth. What is this insolence? I see this as a sign of massive ingratitude on the part of the prime minister and I told him so,” Amsalem said.

MK David Amsalem reacts during a plenum session of the Knesset on December 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amsalem’s comments were filmed by a reporter from the ultra-Orthodox news site BeHadrei Hadarim and posted online.

Netanyahu was forced to give several Likud lawmakers the cold shoulder after handing out most of the top government positions to his coalition partners. While some received no portfolios, others were given lesser positions or forced to share jobs in a rotation.

Netanyahu was also seen as rewarding those who were most loyal to him over the past few years and seeking to weaken those who could challenge his authority in the party.

Amsalem had been one of Netanyahu’s most loyal supporters and was one of the loudest voices questioning the motivation behind the corruption charges leveled at him, but the two clashed several times over the last year.

Netanyahu’s son Yair responded to Amsalem on Twitter, writing: “And it’s well known that Amir Ohana is Polish.” Ohana, who was appointed Knesset speaker instead of Amsalem, is, like Amsalem, the son of immigrants from Morocco.

Amsalem, who is known as a firebrand with a brash style who has frequently engaged in heckling from his Knesset seat and confrontational oratory from the podium, would have been an unorthodox choice for speaker, a post that combines running the parliament — ensuring a stately debate and upholding the Knesset laws — representing it overseas, and filling in for the president when he is unavailable.

Amsalem has frequently alleged discrimination against Sephardic Jews. Last year he became embroiled in a rare spat with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, accusing her and the other judges of systematic discrimination. Hayut dismissed his claims as “poison.”

Historically, and to a significant extent still, Ashkenazi Jews have populated Israel’s upper class while Mizrahi Jews have been poorer as a whole, with discriminatory policies from Israel’s early years to blame for the inequality. This pattern maps onto Israel’s electoral landscape, shaping the country’s politics.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure:
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.