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Likud’s Miri Regev faces backlash over claims ‘white DNA’ rules the party

Opposition MK also says Israel controlled by ‘a Western elite’; Likud MK Ohana says her statements appear to be a preliminary attempt to replace Netanyahu

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and then-culture minister Miri Regev in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and then-culture minister Miri Regev in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Likud minister Miri Regev is facing pushback from other Likud lawmakers after denouncing the “white DNA” of the party’s leadership.

In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily published Friday, Regev, who has previously spoken of her hopes to be prime minister one day, noted many senior roles in Israel have never been held by a Mizrahi (or “Eastern”) Jew since the country’s founding 73 years ago, despite the majority of Likud party members belonging to the community.

Most of Likud’s most senior members — who are chosen in internal primaries — are of Ashkenazi, or European, descent, as have been all the party’s leaders.

“If Likud members continue to elect leaders with white DNA, another Likud will emerge. A real Mizrahi Likud that will give Mizrahim a voice that has been excluded for years, with which a class correction must be made,” she told Yedioth Ahronoth.

Doubling down on her statement, on Saturday she told Channel 13 news that “there is a Western elite here that essentially controls most of the centers of power… It is unacceptable that, after 73 years, there has been no Mizrahi male or female prime minister, and no Mizrahi male or female Supreme Court president,” she added.

“I think that the day after Bibi Netanyahu [goes], Likud members will have to look inward,” she told the paper. “We have excellent, good, high-quality Mizrahi people who can lead Likud further down the road,” she added.

Regev, 56, was born in Israel to a Moroccan-born father and a Spanish-born mother.

Likud MK Miri Regev speaks during a Knesset plenum session, in Jerusalem, on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But many Likud MKs pushed back against her claims, with some accusing her of wanting to replace Netanyahu now that the party is no longer in power.

“Anyone who says, ‘I will run for Likud leadership the day after Netanyahu’ probably secretly wants this day to come, and maybe is even taking action to make it come — openly or secretly,” MK Amir Ohana told Channel 12 news on Saturday.

“I was surprised. Her comments are odd. Miri Regev voted for the Ashkenazi Netanyahu all these years… Why all of a sudden she is having ethnic considerations?” MK Yuval Steinitz told Kol Barama Radio on Sunday.

MK Tzachi Hanegbi told Channel 12: “My mother was a Mizrahi leader and she could have been a very successful prime minister but not because she was the daughter of a Yemeni father and a Moroccan mother, but because of her personality. This is how Likud leaders are elected.”

Likud MK Nir Barkat, who is seen as a top contender for the party’s leadership, posted a video clip to Twitter on Friday of former prime minister Menachem Begin speaking out against ethnic divisions in the country’s 1981 election.

“We are all siblings, we are all Jews,” Barkat wrote.

Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks at a party conference in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Barkat has said he would run for Likud leader when Netanyahu steps down and vowed to win the race. But in June, Barkat called for leadership primaries to be delayed.

Netanyahu decisively won Likud primaries in 2019 when he defeated a challenge by former party minister Gideon Sa’ar. Sa’ar then left Likud in 2020 to start the New Hope party, which campaigned on not serving in a government under Netanyahu.

Likud has put off holding another round of primaries since then, amid political turmoil that saw four rounds of elections in two years.

An eight-party alliance, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, ousted Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, in June, relegating Likud to the opposition for the first time since 2009.

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