Responding to a leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi who said government ministers are worse than the Nazis, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid noted Sunday that his grandfather was murdered in the Holocaust and his father nearly died in a ghetto.
Addressing Rabbi Meir Mazuz of the Kisse Rahamim Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Lapid wrote on Twitter: “”Rabbi Mazuz, the Nazis killed my grandfather in a concentration camp, tried to murder my father in a ghetto.”
“My only answer to your remarks is that I love all of the Jewish people and wish Rabbi Mazuz a happy Jerusalem Day, a day of unity and love for Israel,” he added.
Lapid’s father, Tommy, was born in Serbia but the family was captured by the Nazis and later sent to the Budapest Ghetto. Tommy’s father was killed in a concentration camp, while Tommy and his mother were saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who famously rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis.
Tommy Lapid eventually moved to Israel where he became a noted journalist, playwright and government minister.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman also responded to Mazuz, tweeting that in his feverish resistance to teaching state-imposed non-Torah studies, “Rabbi Mazuz opts [instead] to teach hate studies.”
“I didn’t know that teaching the core curriculum, going out to work, and doing army service is worse than the Nazis,” Liberman wrote, adding that in the Talmud it is written that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of “baseless” hatred among the Jewish people.
At the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “even at the height of heated debates – we will not compare our brothers to the most awful oppressors. We must guard our tongue from evil.”
“We are brothers,” he added, without mentioning Rabbi Meir Mazuz by name.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Mazuz’s remarks bordered on Holocaust denial.
“Jerusalem was taken from us because of senseless hatred, and was united with our strength and unity,” Gantz said, citing the same Talmudic teaching as Liberman.
“Today of all days we must remember the importance of senseless love,” Gantz said, referring to Jerusalem Day, which marks the unification of the capital under Israeli control during the 1967 Six Day War.
The ministers were responding to a video broadcast Saturday in which Mazuz was seen saying the government seeks to “choke Torah students” while “giving as much as possible to Arabs.”
“We have bad people. We’re waiting for them to pass from this world,” Mazuz said, mentioning Lapid and Liberman by name, as well as “all their friends.”
Lapid leads the Yesh Atid party and Liberman is head of Yisrael Beytenu, both movements that campaign for secular rights in Israel.
“They are traitors to their people, they hate their people. They’re worse than the Nazis — the Nazis love their own people; but [the ministers] hate their people,” Mazuz said.
Mazuz is an influential Sephardic rabbi with ties to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party leadership. He was the spiritual leader of former Shas leader Eli Yishai’s short-lived Yachad party.
The rabbi has been at the center of controversy in the past.
In 2020, Mazuz drew condemnation when he said the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel was divine retribution for gay pride parades around the world. In 2016 he attributed the collapse of a Tel Aviv parking garage that killed six people to Shabbat desecration.
Israeli leaders have warned of growing hatred, division and incitement in society, particularly since the formation of the current coalition of disparate parties from left, right and center.
This month saw a right-wing activist indicted for sending threatening letters containing bullets to Bennett and his family.
Lapid has said he’s received threats as well, including one message that expressed a wish he would die from cancer and likened him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
In January a man was charged for threatening Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana with the same fate as assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, over his plans to reform issues of state and religion, weakening ultra-Orthodox hegemony on various issues.
The formation of the unity government last year left the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties United Torah Judaism and Shas out of power for the first time in years. The parties have since attacked the secularist Liberman and Lapid, accusing them of acting out of hatred for their constituents.
The ministers insist they have no animosity toward the ultra-Orthodox population but do seek to end various social benefits that privilege Haredim over other groups.
As the future of the coalition hangs in the balance, Channel 12 reported last week that Liberman was planning a wave of new economic cuts and measures that would affect the ultra-Orthodox community.
The report claims that Liberman is looking to advance three new measures: cutting the budget allocated to yeshiva studies by a third — from NIS 1.2 billion ($360 million) to NIS 800 million ($240 million); funding the private Haredi school system at 75% as opposed to 100%; and allocating benefits like daycare subsidies, rental assistance and arnona (property tax) discounts only to those who earn a certain level of income — cutting off those who study full time.
Of note is the purported attempt to intervene in daycare subsidies, an issue that Yamina MK Nir Orbach explicitly demanded remain untouched as part of an ultimatum for him to remain in the splintering coalition.
Initially, Liberman had pushed a plan under which, starting in 2023, subsidies for childcare would only be granted if parents work at least 24 hours a week. The move would have effectively ended subsidies for some 21,000 children, many of them from ultra-Orthodox families in which the father studies in yeshiva.
But after the pressure from Orbach last month, Liberman agreed to push off the cut until 2024.