Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid on Friday asserted that Israel “should be a state of all its citizens,” but quickly disavowed the sentiment after pushback from his political opponents.
Lapid made the remark in a tweet Friday in reference to Israel’s contentious universal draft law and was immediately slammed as anti-Zionist by right-wing lawmakers, who blasted the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party for seemingly undermining the Jewish identity of Israel.
Minutes later, Lapid clarified that “what I wrote related only to LGBT rights.”
“I am, and I have been, against any kind of ‘state of all its citizens’ my entire life,” he posted in the follow-up tweet.
Lapid had been tweeting in response to an interview given by newly appointed Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has a long history of opposing the LGBT community.
Smotrich quickly reacted to Lapid’s apparent gaffe.
“What happened to Israel being a Jewish and Democratic state? Lapid, my friend, I think you have lost your way,” said Smotrich, an outspoken far-right nationalist, and No. 2 on the Knesset slate of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP).
He was joined by Foreign Minister Israel Katz from the Likud party who said Lapid’s “anti-Zionist slogan” was “serious and outrageous” and was designed to erase the Jewish identity of Israel.
He said Arab parties were founded on the principal of “destroying Israel from within,” accusing Lapid of “adopting the enemy’s buzzword.”
Friday’s twitter exchange comes days after media outlets carried leaked comments by Blue and While No. 3, Moshe Ya’alon, who slammed Lapid for his aggressive campaigning against ultra-Orthodox parties over religion and other social issues.
“Lapid is pushing away potential voters on the center-right and in religious communities,” Ya’alon reportedly told party activists. “Lapid is a liability.”
A political and defense hawk who opposes Palestinian statehood, Ya’alon is considered to be further to the right than many others in the centrist party.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid bills itself as socially liberal and opposed to religious coercion by ultra-Orthodox political factions.
Those issues have taken center-stage in the new election after Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties in the wake of the April 9 elections.
Lapid has been harshly critical of attempts to introduce Jewish religious strictures into public life and has positioned himself as a counterweight to the ultra-Orthodox on religion and state issues.
Smotrich on Monday said he “works for God” — and not for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appointed him — after drawing outrage and ridicule for calling Israel to be governed by Jewish religious law, like in biblical times.
“I am not the prime minister’s man, I am a man of the people,” Smotrich told the Kan public broadcaster. “I am a man of the public who sent me, and — I hope I’m not starting an outrage here — I work for God and do what I believe is good for the State of Israel and the people of Israel, according to my worldview.”
Smotrich, a co-founder of the right-wing NGO Regavim which targets illegal construction by non-Jews in Israel and the West Bank, entered the Knesset in 2015 and quickly became known for his uncompromising right-wing views and controversial remarks.
During his four years in the Knesset, he has made headlines for encouraging draft-dodging in protest of the military’s “radical feminist” agenda, for comparing the evacuation of an illegal settlement outpost to a “brutal rape,” and for claiming that “illiterate” Arabs are only granted university admission thanks to affirmative action.
He has also branded himself a “proud homophobe,” called for segregated Jewish-Arab maternity wards in hospitals, and was involved in organizing an anti-gay “Beast Parade” in Jerusalem in response to the city’s annual Gay Pride parade.