Finance minister later says he didn't mean to 'harm anyone'

Liberman: Netanyahu employs ‘exact methods’ of Nazi propagandist Goebbels

Yisrael Beytenu leader likens Likud leader’s methods to Stalin’s too; Lapid, Gantz disavow ‘unacceptable comparison’; Likud party implies Liberman has mafia ties

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, on Sunday accused political rival and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of employing the “exact methods” of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi party’s chief propogandist, as well as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

The comparison sparked political outrage, and he later said he had not intended to harm anyone.

Liberman had in recent days accused Likud leader Netanyahu of being behind the claims made by Yossi Kamisa, a former Liberman associate, that the Yisrael Beytenu head tried to hire him to kill a police superintendent two decades ago, accusations that Liberman denies.

“It’s a blood libel,” Liberman said while entering the government’s cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“These are Netanyahu’s methods, exactly like those of Goebbels and Stalin, to make the most severe, absurd accusation and repeat it a million times until people get used to the absurdity,” Liberman said.

The frequency of mudslinging between Liberman and Netanyahu — colleagues-turned-rivals — has increased in recent weeks, amid a report that Netanyahu is trying to chip away at Yisrael Beytenu in an attempt to make the five-seat party fall below the electoral threshold in the November 1 election.

The Likud party slammed the finance minister for the “insult” to the Holocaust, and implied that he has mafia links by calling him “Don Liberman.”

“Don Liberman has no boundaries. His false and outrageous words are an insult to the Holocaust,” the party said in a statement.

Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, on October 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Liberman later defended his remarks, but indicated he was sorry for any offense caused.

“Netanyahu has indeed forgotten that the people closest to him chose to call the Israel Police ‘the Gestapo’ but he still remembers very well how to use propaganda methods to harm me,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, a reference to comments reportedly made by Yair Netanyahu several years ago.

He added, “I did not intend to harm anyone and certainly not on an issue so close to my heart: the Holocaust and World War II, in which some of my family were victims.”

Liberman continued that “nobody will preach morality to me, and my actions speak for themselves,” noting efforts to boost welfare payments for Holocaust survivors in Israel.

Liberman immigrated to Israel in 1978 from the then-Soviet Moldova and has long said that many of the attacks against him by political rivals have been rooted in racism against Israelis hailing from the former Soviet Union.

Politicians from the opposition, as well as some of Liberman’s coalition colleagues, condemned Liberman for likening Netanyahu to a senior Nazi.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both the sons of survivors, chastised their cabinet colleague for invoking the Holocaust against a political rival.

“Even when we are faced with an endless machine of poison and incitement that is gnawing at Israeli society, the Holocaust should be left out of the conversation. Any statement that equates or implies this only harms the memory of the Holocaust and our social cohesion,” tweeted Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid.

Then Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

National Unity party leader Gantz conveyed a similar message, tweeting that although he “highly appreciates” Liberman, he “condemns the unacceptable comparison to those who committed the worst atrocities in human history.”

Gantz said “limits must be set” even during a difficult election campaign.

Netanyahu’s partners in the opposition also quickly rallied against Liberman.

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich called Liberman a “bully provocateur” who has spread “hatred and boycotts,” an apparent reference to Liberman’s push to cut subsidies tied to fulltime religious study — mainly targeted at Haredi men, but also a segment of the national religious community.

“Now he is also dishonoring the memory of the Holocaust. The Israeli public must remove him in order to transform Israel into a better place,” Smotrich said.

Adolf Hitler, Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels (right) and others watch filming at Universum Film AG, the principal film studio in Germany at the time, in 1935. (Photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1002-500, Wikipedia)

Moshe Gafni, who heads the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, reacted similarly, saying Liberman did not respect the cultural red lines around the Holocaust.

“[Liberman is] someone who tries to spread pork throughout Israel and lashes out against various groups in Israeli society — no wonder he doesn’t consider the Holocaust and its various components a disaster that can’t be compared to other issues,” Gafni said, also calling for Liberman to leave public life.

Last week, Liberman called Netanyahu “scum of the human race” while blaming the Likud chief for being behind the Kamisa accusations.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to hold an initial assessment of the Kamisa claims, but a formal investigation is not expected.

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