Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday called on Israelis to stop reading the Haaretz daily newspaper, railing at the left-leaning newspaper for an opinion piece that called Israel’s national religious community more dangerous than the terror group Hezbollah.
The column by Yossi Klein (Hebrew) in Wednesday’s edition of Haaretz accused Israel’s national religious community, usually characterized by its hawkish views and attachment to the settlement enterprise, of deceitfully attempting to take over and subvert the country while carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
“Haaretz already some time ago became a platform that gives broad expression to the viewpoints of Israel haters, but the publication of the piece by Yossi Klein, a frustrated and unimportant journalist who also failed as an editor, crosses all the red lines,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
“I call on every citizen of Israel to stop purchasing and to stop reading the Haaretz newspaper immediately.”
“The national religious are dangerous. More dangerous than Hezbollah, more than drivers in car-ramming attacks or girls with scissors (referring to a stabbing terror attack by a Palestinian teenage girl). The Arabs can be neutralized, but they cannot,” Klein wrote in his Wednesday column. “What do they want? To rule the country and cleanse it of Arabs.”
In his Facebook post, Liberman also accused Klein of defaming and inciting against the “exalted” national religious community.
“Klein scathingly slanders and incites against the national religious public, an exalted and wonderful community that has contributed to the strength and security of the State of Israel more than Klein and his friends at Haaretz ever have,” he said.
“The fact that the editorial board of Haaretz decided to publish this article proves that the paper has lost all direction and that the self-hatred of the employees of Haaretz toward everything Israeli and Jewish has made them completely lose their minds.”
Following the publication of Klein’s opinion piece on Wednesday, Haaretz drew widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The article in Haaretz is disgraceful,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook late Wednesday. “The national religious community is the salt of the earth. Their sons and daughters serve in the army and national volunteer service for the State of Israel and the security of Israel. I am proud of them like the rest of the country’s citizens. Haaretz needs to apologize.”
Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, whose paper prides itself on being a voice of dissent, said the column was actually similar to one he had published six years earlier accusing the national religious community of practicing apartheid, a piece that also drew fire at the time.
“I can’t figure out what all the excitement is (Pavlovian, I must say) over Yossi Klein’s column,” he wrote on Twitter.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party that is seen as a political home for many in the national religious community, told Channel 2 news that he had received complaints from two families of fallen soldiers saying that the article was harmful.
“Not national religious, or leftists, or Arabs or any other group deserves a writer making an abusive, stupid accusation like this,” he wrote on Facebook. “Before it ends in blood, Haaretz, stop.”
Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, called the column “anti-Semitic,” asking rhetorically if a number of national religious Israelis, including fellow lawmakers, were more dangerous than the terror group.
But the backlash to the column also drew its own backlash, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog and MK Shelly Yachimovich, both of the Zionist Union party, accusing Netanyahu of using similar language against Arabs, union members and others.
Herzog nevertheless said the column deserved “every condemnation” and Yachimovich called it “inciteful, infuriating and full of indiscriminate hatred.”
However, MK Tamar Zandberg from the left-wing Meretz party criticized the uniform responses of politicians on both sides ends of the spectrum:
“I would be more excited by the nationalist shock over Klein if Bennett or [Netanyahu] — you know what, [Herzog] or Shelly — would tweet when leftists are called traitors or chicken shit.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.