Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman clashed with the leader of the United Torah Judaism party on Tuesday as Israel went to the polls, with the latter calling the former an “anti-Semite.”
Liberman said in a statement that “the ultra-Orthodox are flocking to the polls, now is the turn of the secular to go and vote” — a reference to a controversial statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 2015 election, originally made about Arab voters.
Liberman has campaigned for secularist values and repeatedly attacked the ultra-Orthodox leadership, saying it holds too much sway over the lives of non-Haredi Israelis. Haredi leaders have claimed Liberman has racist hatred toward their public, though the Yisrael Beytenu chief has insisted his beef is only with Haredi politicians and hegemony over public life.
“We will wipe the smile off that anti-Semite’s face today,” UTJ’s Moshe Gafni said in a video, responding to Liberman’s comment.
In 2015, Netanyahu published a video urging right-wingers to vote because Arab Israelis were “flocking” to the polls in “droves.” He later apologized for the statement.
“When [Netanyahu] said the Arabs were flocking to the polls, the whole country was buzzing and he had to recant,” Gafni said, adding that “now, this anti-Semite Liberman is saying that the ultra-Orthodox are flocking to the polls and everyone is silent about this terrible thing. The authorities need to prosecute him, but the country is silent.”
In response, Liberman took to Twitter, writing again: “To the secular: The ultra-Orthodox are flocking to the polls. Go out and vote!”
חילונים, החרדים נוהרים לקלפיות. צאו להצביע! pic.twitter.com/skuEsA7WdX
— אביגדור ליברמן (@AvigdorLiberman) March 23, 2021
Last week Liberman came under fire for saying he’d dump Netanyahu and the Haredim “in a landfill,” during an interview with Channel 12 news.
The leader of Yisrael Beytenu was asked if he would consider serving in a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties if it meant ousting Netanyahu.
“There will be no such thing,” he responded. “Listen, we’ll send the ultra-Orthodox together with Bibi on a wheelbarrow to a landfill.”
Yisrael Beytenu is a secularist right-wing party that was formed in 1999 by Liberman. The party has over the years pushed anti-Arab rhetoric and advocated for a two-state solution in which predominantly Arab cities become part of a Palestinian state and their residents lose their Israeli citizenship.
In recent years, Yisrael Beytenu has emphasized a secularist stance, placing itself at the vanguard of the struggle to water down ultra-Orthodox influence. This has included advocating for civil marriage and for widespread mandatory IDF recruitment among the ultra-Orthodox. The party has a solid base of Russian-speaking immigrants, many of whom are right-wing yet secular.
Formerly a close ally of Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties, Yisrael Beytenu has fallen out with Netanyahu and since 2019 has said he refuses to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu, or one that includes Shas or United Torah Judaism, so long as they do not accept his secularist policies.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.