The head of one of the largest Hasidic sects in Israel, speaking at an ultra-Orthodox election campaign rally on Sunday night, appeared to compare secular politicians to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in an appeal to Haredi voters to head to the ballot box during Tuesday’s election.
Rabbi Yisroel Hager, leader of the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect, addressed a crowd of some 50,000 people at a massive rally in Jerusalem on behalf of the United Torah Judaism Party, one of the country’s two main ultra-Orthodox political parties.
During the event, speakers urged followers to go out and vote in Tuesday’s national elections and warned of the threat that a secular government could be formed, an outcome promoted by Blue and White No. 2 MK Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
Hager, who spoke in Yiddish, noted that the Israeli elections fall on the Hebrew date of 17th of Elul — the same day that Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The Nazi forces went on to murder some three million Polish Jews.
Then, too, Hager warned the crowds that “people didn’t want to believe” what the future held. “To our regret, the destroyers of religion, those who ruin religion also want, unfortunately, to bring a Holocaust, God forbid.”
Although Hager did not mention either Lapid or Liberman by name, his remarks were seen as referring to the two lawmakers.
Lapid, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust and whose father, Josef “Tommy” Lapid, survived, responded on Twitter by calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak out against the remarks at the rally of the Likud-allied party.
“These are the natural [coalition] partners,” Lapid wrote along with a link to a Hebrew media story about Hager’s statements. “I demand that Bibi [Netanyahu] condemn the grand rabbi’s remarks. Hitler murdered my grandfather in the gas chambers. There is a limit to the incitement.”
At the Sunday night rally, UTJ party leader, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, told the crowd that the election struggle “is over our right to be ultra-Orthodox, to keep [religious] commandments, to lead a life of Torah and belief.”
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni reportedly compared Lapid and Liberman to the ancient biblical enemy of the Jews, Amalek. The two politicians, Gafni said, are waging a “cultural war” against the ultra-Orthodox community, Ynet reported.
The two lawmakers have both raised the ire of the ultra-Orthodox community with their campaigning.
Lapid has pushed for a tougher stance against the ultra-Orthodox parties, accusing them of “extorting” money from the government and blasting their refusal to serve in the military.
Last month, the ultra-Orthodox community decried Lapid as anti-Semitic, after he tweeted a satirical campaign video portraying senior ultra-Orthodox politicians as venal and corrupt, demanding large sums of money in exchange for pledging loyalty to Netanyahu.
Under Liberman, the secularist Yisrael Beytenu has campaigned against religious influence on public institutions and vowed to bring about a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Prediction polls have given Blue and White about the same number of seats as Likud in the election, although with a harder path to forming a majority coalition. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, predicted to win around 8-10 seats, could be positioned as kingmaker after the vote, Israel’s second election in five months, after a round in April failed to produce a majority coalition.
Liberman helped precipitate the upcoming elections by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government after elections in April unless legislation to formalize exemptions to mandatory military service for seminary students was passed without changes, a demand rejected by the ultra-Orthodox.
Coming up one seat short of a majority without Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call a snap poll, marking the first time an Israeli election failed to produce a government.