Senior Likud MK escalates criticism as Netanyahu denies ethnic discrimination

David Amsalem takes fresh shot at party leader after being skipped over for ministerial post; PM’s office calls accusation that racism influenced appointments ‘ridiculous’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK David Amsalem on Saturday took a fresh swipe against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a day after accusing the premier of racism for passing him over in the allocation of cabinet portfolios.

Amsalem, the highest-ranking Likud MK to not get a ministerial position in Netanyahu’s new government, demanded to be either justice minister or Knesset speaker and apparently refused other positions after being denied both.

“I was chosen fourth in the primaries by the same voters who chose Netanyahu! While Netanyahu was persecuted and framed, the shouting and the battles I waged were not problematic. No one cared about the style when it served and significantly helped us come to power!” Amslem tweeted Saturday.

“Now there is no need for Dudi anymore — God forbid it won’t hurt the opposition too much?!” he added, referring to himself by his nickname.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s office on Saturday responded to Amsalem’s accusations a day earlier about his lack of ministerial post, which he claimed was specifically due to his Sephardic heritage.

“The claim of ethnic preference in Likud is ridiculous and does not exist. It is enough to see the list of senior officials in Likud, which includes Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Chair of the Economic Committee David Bitan, and ministers Miki Zohar, Idit Silman, Gila Gamaliel, Amichai Chikli, Galit Distal [Atbaryan] and Shlomo Karai, to refute this ridiculous claim,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement to the Walla news site.

Amsalem, who is known as a firebrand with a brash style, had been one of Netanyahu’s most loyal supporters and was one of the loudest voices questioning the motivation behind the corruption charges that the Likud leader is on trial for. However, the two have also clashed several times over the last year.

MK David Amsalem reacts during a plenum session of the Knesset on December 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu was forced to give several Likud lawmakers the cold shoulder after handing out most of the top government positions to his coalition partners. While some received ministerial posts, others were given lesser positions or forced to share jobs in a rotation.

The Likud chief was also seen as rewarding those who were most loyal to him over the past few years and seeking to weaken those who could challenge his authority in the party.

Amsalem, who has frequently engaged in heckling from his Knesset seat and confrontational oratory from the podium, would have been an unorthodox choice for speaker, a post that combines running the parliament — ensuring a stately debate and upholding the Knesset laws — representing it overseas, and filling in for the president when he is unavailable.

Amsalem has frequently alleged discrimination against Sephardic Jews. Last year, he became embroiled in a rare spat with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, accusing her and the other judges of systematic discrimination. Hayut dismissed his claims as “poison.”

Historically, and to a significant extent still, Ashkenazi Jews have populated Israel’s upper class while Mizrahi Jews have been poorer as a whole, with discriminatory policies from Israel’s early years to blame for the inequality. This pattern maps onto Israel’s electoral landscape, shaping the country’s politics.

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