Likud lawmaker’s suggestion that Gantz is ‘autistic’ leads to uproar
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Lapid: 'Don't mess with me. Speak nicely about my daughter'

Likud lawmaker’s suggestion that Gantz is ‘autistic’ leads to uproar

When interviewer suggests Gantz wouldn’t have known about cost of IDF farewell party, David Amsalem wonders if he’s ‘some autistic person who doesn’t understand’; later apologizes

Coalition chairman MK David Amsalem attends a Likud party event in Tel Aviv marking the Jewish new year on September 6, 2018. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Coalition chairman MK David Amsalem attends a Likud party event in Tel Aviv marking the Jewish new year on September 6, 2018. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A Likud lawmaker’s suggestion that Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz might be “autistic” sparked an outcry by two politicians with autistic family members, as well as an autism advocacy group.

In an interview Sunday morning on Radio Darom, a station broadcasting in Israel’s south, Likud MK David Amsalem repeated a Likud campaign talking point that accuses Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, of spending NIS 600,000 ($165,000) of state funds on the traditional send-off party for his retirement as chief of staff in 2015.

“When he left the IDF, he threw himself a NIS 600,000 party with the public’s money. I said to myself, if the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] had done that with 6,000 shekels, I assume [corruption investigators] would have investigated him for it, as well as the attorney general,” Amsalem charged.

Netanyahu is a suspect in three corruption investigations that some of his supporters, including Amsalem, allege are conspiracies to remove him from power.

The interviewer challenged Amsalem over the claim, noting that the chief of staff does not organize the farewell event and would not have known its cost.

Former Israeli chief of staff Benny Gantz walks among supporters during an electoral rally after delivering his first campaign speech, in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Look where you’re taking us,” Amsalem retorted, appearing to acknowledge the point, but arguing Gantz should have known. “It’s as if the chief of staff is some autistic person who isn’t interested, doesn’t understand.”

The comment drew rebuke from Alut, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children and Adults, which called it “sad and disappointing that a senior elected official permits himself to use the word ‘autistic’ as a pejorative, insulting a large population of autistic adults and children, as well as their families. Alut has worked for years to raise awareness about autism, and has significant achievements to its name. Apparently the work is not yet finished.”

Amsalem’s political opponents were less circumspect.

Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid, whose daughter is autistic, posted withering criticism on Facebook, telling Amsalem, “Don’t mess with me.”

Yair Lapid speaks at the Globes Conference at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, on December 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“To him, being my daughter is a curse,” Lapid wrote, “because in Amsalem’s world everything comes at the expense of the weak.

“Benny Gantz isn’t autistic, Mr. Amsalem,” he went on. “You don’t have to stop the car on the side of the road when he has a wild tantrum and bites his mother. He doesn’t take food from the tables of other diners in a restaurant. He doesn’t need to be fully sedated to get dental work. His parents don’t stay up at night worrying about who will care for him when they’re older.

“I’m a politician. I’m supposed to be polite. Not this time. Don’t mess with me, Dudi. Speak nicely about my daughter.”

Labor MK Stav Shaffir, whose sister is autistic, slammed Amsalem and accused the Likud-led government of neglecting those with special needs.

Labor MK Stav Shaffir attends an Education, Culture and Sports Committee meeting in the Knesset on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I hope for your sake you’ll never have to deal up close with autism,” she wrote on Facebook, “and don’t experience for yourself the miserable way the government you’re a member of neglects the helpless. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemies. But that’s our life. You’re already a joke MK, at least don’t use our siblings as a curse.”

After the uproar, Amsalem released a statement slamming Lapid and apologizing if his words had hurt anybody, without fully apologizing for the statement itself.

“As usual, Yair Lapid is cynical about everything. I didn’t mean to insult his daughter, and certainly not the special-needs population. Mr. Lapid, since you don’t know, we’ve been dealing for many years and with great difficulty with the sorts of things you describe with my little sister, so that definitely wasn’t my intention.”

He added: “It saddens me that you’re trying to scrape a few votes on the back of such a sensitive and painful issue. In any case, if someone was hurt by my words, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for that.”

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