Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party took down parts of its Russian-language campaign site in response to criticism from rivals for saying opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is becoming a “sectoral” faction for Israeli Jews of Sephardic descent.
The text — first highlighted by Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan on Thursday — claimed that the party no longer represented the entirety of Israeli society.
“It abandoned its ideology and became a sectoral Sephardic party,” the site read, referring to Jews of North African and Middle Eastern heritage.
Atbaryan accused Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (who is part of National Unity, not Yesh Atid) of “normalizing Garbuz,” a reference to artist Yair Garbuz, who sparked outrage before the 2015 election when he decried the left’s loss of the country to a “handful of amulet-kissers and idol-worshipers.”
The remarks were seen as an attack on traditional religious Jews, Sephardi Jews and the right wing in general.
In an official statement, the Likud said: “Yair Lapid called today in Russian not to vote for Likud because it’s a ‘party of Sephardim.’ Lapid’s racism has no limits.”
Yesh Atid countered that the text was written by an outside party without their knowledge and that they do not reflect the faction’s views. The party added that it was reviewing other content on the website.
“There will be no display of any type of racism among us,” Lapid said in response to the criticism. “Whoever says or writes something racist will be out of Yesh Atid that day.”
The premier then accused Netanyahu of trying to score political points over the website’s text.
“He never misses an opportunity to incite and divide,” Lapid said and claimed that there were more Sephardic candidates at the top of his electoral list than on Likud’s slate.
Israel’s Sephardic-Ashkenazi divide has played a role in politics for decades.
Likud owed its first electoral victory in 1977 partly due to then-party chair Menachem Begin’s support among Middle Eastern and North African Jews, many of whom held the Ashkenazi-dominated Labor party and its predecessors responsible for the neglect and discrimination they faced when it governed the state in its early years.
Israelis head to the ballot box on November 1, for the fifth round of elections since 2019.