Gantz puts out Russian-language New Year’s poster, reportedly angering Liberman

Blue and White chief also expected to attend ‘Novy God’ celebrations in Ramat Gan; Yisrael Beytenu chief said to claim poster aims to pick off his voters

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman talk to the press after meeting in Ramat Gan on November 14, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman talk to the press after meeting in Ramat Gan on November 14, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz put out a campaign poster Tuesday wishing Russian speakers a Happy New Year, reportedly angering Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman.

The poster was put out for “Novy God,” the Russian term for New Year. Gantz was also expected to attend Novy God celebrations in Ramat Gan, Channel 12 news said.

According to the network, the poster prompted Liberman, whose party draws substantial support from Russian-speaking Israelis, to complain Blue and White was trying to eat into his voter base.

Blue and White responded that the poster was not aimed at picking off Liberman’s core supporters but toward “soft-right” voters, the report said.

Following general elections in September, which failed to produce a government, Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White both called for the formation of a so-called liberal national unity government, but disagreements between Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and Liberman’s refusal to endorse either of the candidates — led to the breakdown of coalition talks and calling of elections for the third time in under a year.

Liberman has been critical of Gantz’s consideration of a government backed by the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, whose lawmakers the Yisrael Beytenu chief has called a “fifth column,” and has also accused Blue of White of seeking support from ultra-Orthodox parties that he has campaigned against.

Recent polls have forecast Liberman will retain his kingmaker status after the March 2 elections, with neither Netanyahu nor Gantz having a clear path to a government without his party.

Novy God, which incorporates elements of Christmas but is a secular holiday owing to the Atheism of the Soviet Union’s communist rulers, arrived in Israel when immigration from the former USSR took off in the 1990s.

Russian immigrants in Ashdod celebrate Novy God with actors dressed as Grandfather Frost in 2015. (Drori Garti/Flash 90)

New Year’s traditionally has been called “Sylvester” in Israelis, as New Year’s Eve falls on Saint Sylvester’s Day, and thus gave the holiday a decidedly Christian flavor to many Israelis.

“Kids at school knew I celebrated. At first they’d call this ‘Sylvester’ and everyone would ask me why we celebrated it, because it’s a Christian holiday. Each time I needed to explained to it isn’t a religious holiday and that these are New Year’s celebrations,” Alex, who moved to Israel in 1993 when he was 4-years-old, told Channel 13 news.

Since then, however, Novy God has increasingly entered into the Israeli mainstream, with many Israelis who have no connection to the Soviet Union taking part in the holiday, helped in part by a growing familiarity with global New Year celebrations.

Though a number of lawmakers have unsuccessfully pushed to make Novy God an official holiday, in 2011 the Knesset voted to make it an “optional” holiday, meaning workers cannot be prevented by their employers from taking the day off if they choose.

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