Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son on Monday sniped at President Reuven Rivlin on Twitter after the latter criticized the premier over recent statements about Arab Israelis.
Blue and White, the centrist party which is Netanyahu’s main challenger in the upcoming April 9 elections, chipped in and released a statement urging the prime minister to “control” his son and accusing the family of incitement against Rivlin.
In a speech at a Jerusalem conference earlier Monday, Rivlin condemned the “entirely unacceptable remarks about the Arab citizens of Israel” made by some politicians. He did not mention any names, but he was likely referring to right-wing parties, including Netanyahu’s Likud, that have repeatedly accused their center-left rivals of planning to rely on Arab parties in their future government coalition.
“Those who believe that the State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic in the full sense of the word must remember that the State of Israel has complete equality of rights for all its citizens,” Rivlin said. “There are no, and there will be no, second-class citizens, and there are no second-class voters.”
The premier’s son Yair Netanyahu responded by invoking a phrase uttered by the president in 2015 that angered many in the right-wing because of its ambiguity.
Speaking after a case of Jewish terror, in which several members of a Palestinian family were killed in a firebomb attack on their home, Rivlin said then: “From my people, there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity.”
But in Hebrew, the phrase could also be understood as a general statement on all Israeli people, rather than a specific statement on the attackers. The comments caused outrage, though Rivlin later repeatedly clarified he was only referring to the assailants.
In his tweet, Yair Netanyahu told Rivlin: “Why are you surprised [at the anti-Arab rhetoric]? It’s all because members of your people have chosen the path of terrorism.”
Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White party later released a statement taking aim at the prime minister and his son.
“Throughout the election campaign we have been careful to be respectful toward the Netanyahu family, but now we are calling on Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu: Control the mouth and keyboard of your son Yair,” Benny Gantz’s party said.
“Your incitement toward our president crosses every possible line. Israel comes above everything, the Netanyahu family doesn’t.”
The president’s earlier comments on anti-Arab rhetoric comes after days of public debate on the legitimacy of Likud’s rhetoric concerning the Arab population. The party has caused controversy by framing the election as one between Netanyahu and a center-left coalition that would rely on the support of Arab parties.
Model and actress Rotem Sela made headlines in recent days by blasting Culture Minister Miri Regev of Likud, after the latter repeated the claim that Gantz and Lapid want to establish a government with the help of Arab parties.
“What is the problem with the Arabs???” Sela wrote on her Instagram account. “Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”
Netanyahu unexpectedly responded to her post with “an important correction,” saying that Israel “is not a state of all its citizens” but the nation-state of the Jewish people only.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.