Yesh Atid MK on far right: ‘Not comparing, but Hitler rose to power democratically’

Ram Ben Barak denounces Religious Zionism as ‘racist, anti-democratic’ ahead of Tuesday’s election; Netanyahu: He’s comparing me to Hitler; Ben Gvir to Lapid: Boot him from party

MK Ram Ben-Barak at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Ram Ben-Barak at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A lawmaker in Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party on Saturday evoked Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler while hitting out at a potential government that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu could form with the far-right, drawing outraged reactions from the opposition.

“There are a thousand differences and I’m not comparing it to anything… [but] Hitler rose to power democratically,” Yesh Atid MK Ben Barak said at a speaking event in the southern city of Beersheba.

Ben Barak warned against the potential ramifications for Israel’s judicial system if Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc — which includes the far-right Religious Zionism party — wins Tuesday’s election.

He later insisted he was not comparing any Israeli political figure to Hitler, “nor will I ever compare anyone in the State of Israel or the world to Hitler.”

“The attempt to portray it as a comparison is not accurate and it is unfortunate that someone is trying to portray it thus,” he tweeted.

Religious Zionism, which is running on a joint slate with MK Itamar Ben Gvir’s extremist Otzma Yehudit, has proposed reforms that would dramatically curb the judiciary’s powers and potentially result in the termination of Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges, in which he denies wrongdoing.

Its leaders have also been repeatedly accused of racism against Israel’s Arab population.

“We need to safeguard our democracy,” Ben Barak said, warning against “this alliance between Ben Gvir and [Religious Zionism leader Bezelel] Smotrich’s racist, anti-democratic party and a person who we’ve seen over time is prepared to do almost anything to escape from trial, and will let them do anything.

“This alliance is dangerous,” he added.

In response, Netanyahu said in a video statement: “[Ben Barak] is comparing me to Hitler and Likud supporters to supporters of the Nazi party. What a disgrace, what incitement.”

Ben Gvir tweeted that Ben Barak had “crossed the last red line” and demanded that Lapid “announce Ram Ben Barak’s expulsion from the party this evening.”

From left to right: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir, opposition leader and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, and Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

However, there was no response Saturday from Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor who last month criticized Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman for saying Netanyahu employed the “exact methods” of chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Ben Barak spoke as several factions opposed to the former premier sought to motivate voters in their camp with dire warnings of the possible consequences if they fail to support them in next week’s election.

Speaking at the same event, Liberman lashed out at Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, vowing his right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party would not join any government that includes ultra-Orthodox factions.

“To me, the thing that is most grating is the wild competition between Gantz and Lapid for the hearts of Shas and United Torah Judaism,” Liberman said.

Asked if he really believed Lapid and Gantz would give Haredi parties “everything they want” to coax them into a coalition, Liberman responded, “definitely.”

“That’s what they say on record,” he claimed.

Both Shas and UTJ, which are aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud party and Religious Zionism, have regularly pledged to only join a coalition made up of their bloc, though supporters of Gantz and Lapid regularly assert that their tune could change if Netanyahu once again fails to secure a Knesset majority in next week’s vote.

Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman announces his list for the upcoming elections at a campaign event in Tel Aviv, September 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Meretz chief Zehava Galon said Netanyahu and his allies would win a clear majority if her left-wing party fails to enter the Knesset.

“Meretz is close to the electoral threshold and if it falls [below it] Netanyahu will have 63-64 seats,” she said.

Galon accused Netanyahu of trying to drive down Arab voter turnout in an effort to boost his prospects.

“He has one objective, to suppress voting among the Arab public, because it is clear that if the Arab public goes out and votes then the change bloc’s chance of winning is greater,” she said, referring to the outgoing coalition.

Also Saturday, the No. 2 in the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance called for the support of left-wing Jewish voters.

“Your vote is important,” MK Ahmad Tibi said at a rally in Shfaram.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi speaks during Haaretz Conference at Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, June 16, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to television polls aired Friday, Netanyahu’s bloc is due to pick up 60 seats — one short of a majority.

The three surveys aired by the main news networks all gave 56 seats to the outgoing coalition, while the unaligned Hadash-Ta’al received four.

With neither side having a clear path to cobbling together a government, the polls indicated continued parliamentary gridlock after the election, the fifth since April 2016.

The surveys were the last to be aired before the November 1 election, as Israeli law bars the publication of polls in the immediate days before the vote. Israeli polls are not always reliable, but can influence both politicians and voters.

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