Netanyahu accuses Lapid of ‘anti-Semitism’ in campaign spot on ultra-Orthodox

Blue and White leaders at loggerheads over ad portraying Haredi politicians as money-hungry; party leader Gantz urges a ‘different style to that of Netanyahu’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then finance minister Yair Lapid attend a signing ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 23, 2014. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then finance minister Yair Lapid attend a signing ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 23, 2014. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said a campaign video by the rival Blue and White party had employed an “anti-Semitic tone,” as the leader of the centrist party distanced himself from the controversial clip lampooning ultra-Orthodox politicians as money-hungry.

The ire was directed at the party’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, who published the spot that poked fun at the Likud party for forcing its candidates in the upcoming elections to sign a loyalty oath backing Netanyahu. It portrayed a fictional group chat in popular messaging service WhatsApp, in which leaders of several small parties are asked to swear to support the candidacy of “Benjamin Netanyahu, the first of his name, messenger of God, leader of the right and father of dragons.”

In the video, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri responds by saying, “You want me to sign? Give another trillion shekels for the yeshivas” while United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman says, “I want all the money in Israel.”

The clip also portrayed nationalist lawmaker Betzalel Smotrich demanding the annexation of the settlements and his party’s leader, Ayelet Shaked, demanding that Netanyahu weaken the High Court of Justice.

On Monday, Netanyahu responded to the video, writing on Twitter: “The incitement by the prime ministerial candidate Yair Lapid, phrased with an anti-Semitic tone, proves once again why Yair Lapid cannot be allowed to be prime minister.”

Left to right: Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi are seen at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Earlier, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz issued implicit criticism of his partner and deputy in the party leadership, tweeting: “The strength of Israeli society comes from its unity, including all sectors — secular and religious, Jews and non-Jews, left and right. That is the appropriate way for Israel’s leadership to behave at this time.”

Referencing the upcoming Tisha B’Av fast, in which Jew mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, Gantz noted the saying that the Temple fell due to senseless hate within the nation of Israel, and said: “We should adopt a different style to that of Netanyahu and focus on gratuitous love.”

Blue and White No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon also said the ad was “not my style nor that of Gantz,” adding that they were “not in favor of hate discourse.”

Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir likewise told the ultra-Orthodox Kol Barama radio that the video was “not my style and I wouldn’t have made it.”

Haredi leaders have accused Lapid of dabbling in anti-Semitic stereotypes.

“Anti-Semitism — there is no other word,” Deri responded to the video on Twitter.

Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri (right) speaks with United Torah Judaism leader MK Yaakov Litzman (left) during the opening session of the 20th Knesset, March 31, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Litzman likewise called the ad anti-Semitic, declaring that it had crossed a “red line” and that it was reminiscent of “dark periods in which Jews were portrayed as greedy persecutors.”

Lapid responded quickly, stating that he was unwilling to accept criticism from someone who “protects pedophiles,” a reference to allegations that Litzman, the deputy health minister, had improperly protected sex offenders in at least 10 cases.

“I’m also not impressed that they scream ‘hate, hate’ every time someone criticizes them. There is real anti-Semitism in the world: Jews are shot in synagogues. This is not anti-Semitism. We will continue to fight for Israel as a Jewish, democratic, free and liberal state.” Lapid said that what he described as the humorous clip was part of legitimate political campaigning.

Despite the criticism by the prime minister, Lapid doubled down on the video and attacked Netanyahu later on Monday.

“Unbelievable. Netanyahu, the biggest inciter in Israel’s history, attacks me for a WhatsApp joke,” Lapid tweeted. “Hey Bibi, should I start bringing quotes? The venom and hate you have been spewing for years into the Israeli society? Besides, the joke is about the billions you gave ultra-Orthodox wheeler-dealers, which means [the joke] wasn’t at their expense at all, but at our expense.”

The ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism issued a similar video Monday in response, mocking internal divisions within Blue and White and portraying members as saying that in order to bring back voters who transferred their support to Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, the party “must bash the Haredim again.”

“We can bash them all day and it’s a voter magnet!” Lapid is staged as saying in the mock WhatsApp conversation.

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