The Habayit Hayehudi party put up advertisements in Ramle on Tuesday warning against marriage between Arabs and Jews, as part of its local election campaign.
The billboards that appeared throughout the mixed Jewish-Arab city show a woman wearing a hijab in front of a table holding Shabbat candles and a Kiddush cup. The text reads, “There are hundreds of cases of assimilation in Ramle and nobody cares. Tomorrow it could be your daughter.” Under that it reads, “Only a strong Habayit Hayehudi can preserve Jewish Ramle.”
There was no response from the party branch in Ramle. Habayit Hayehudi’s national office initially denounced the ads and said it was not involved in the local campaign, but later updated their response, saying, “The party’s position on assimilation is clear: The Jewish people must preserve its national character and preserve its tradition, religion, culture and heritage. At the same time, it is proper to preserve an honorable campaign style.” The Meretz party has filed a complaint about the campaign to the Central Elections Committee.
City residents were incensed by the ad and protested on social media. Nayef Abu Suiss, who is running for the city council, said he had filed a police complaint against the campaign, which he called, “Cheap and racist election propaganda that reveals the true face of the Habayit Hayehudi party.” He added, “This is a racist attack that sows hatred and destroys the social fabric and good neighborliness in Ramle. Habayit Hayehudi is hurting a large community, will heat up the atmosphere and I’m warning there could be a sharp reaction.”
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Another candidate, Ghassan Manier, told Haaretz he was afraid there could be violence as a result of the campaign. “I hear that people are planning to physically take [the posters] down,” he said. “This kind of ad brings leads to a flare-up of passions; it leads to anger and incitement.”
Manier added that, “Violence is the desire of this hallucinatory group that encourages Elor Azaria [the soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian attacker in 2016]. This city is known for the good relations between Jews and Arabs over the years. This deepens the rift and the gap, it’s very dangerous.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, whose party petitioned to have the campaign stopped, said, “The shameful Habayit Hayehudi campaign in Ramle is an escalation of the spread of racism and hatred. It turns out that the right-wing battle over who can be more extreme and racist will not end soon.”
Meretz’s petition to the Central Elections Committee states that the posters’ content “violates the Penal Code and the ban on publishing incitement to racism and even tends toward incitement to violence.” The party warned that the signs could even lead to “action against ‘assimilation,’” and that the campaign could “inflame the fragile relationship between the Jewish and Arab residents of the city.”
The Habayit Hayehudi party national office at first had denounced the ads and said they would not “accept negative campaigns against other publics and sectors.” It had said that the campaign was not approved by the party and did not represent its position. “We believe in connecting all parts of Israeli society and not in increasing division and polarization,” the party said before issuing a second statement that softened its earlier criticism of the ads and came out against “assimilation.”
Ramle Mayor Michael Vidal issued a statement saying he was “personally and religiously opposed to marriage between Jews and other religions,” and that he “does not intend to address specific ads of other political movements in Ramle.” At the same time, Vidal called on “all political factions to act sensitively, because Ramle is a multicultural city and after the elections we will have a city to manage and live in.”
Ron Gerlitz, a co-director of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, called the billboards “a campaign based on lies, whose sole purpose is to stir up and divide the city’s residents.” According to Gerlitz, “The Habayit Hayehudi candidates and their advertising advisers are prepared to incite the residents of Ramle against one another, inflame the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the city, and even bring it to violence, all this in an attempt to get a few more votes.”
Sikkuy, which last week appealed to the attorney general about a Likud campaign in Tel Aviv, called on the Interior Ministry and the attorney general to “express themselves immediately and unequivocally against racist campaigns in the local elections.” The organization also called on the candidates to remember that “the day after the elections, the residents of the city will continue to live side by side. You must not sow hatred and division, but you must take responsibility and act on behalf of all the residents of the city.”
MK Neven Abu Rahmoun (Joint List) condemned the campaign and said she would ask the attorney general to disqualify it. “For some lists, incitement seems to be the only tool of persuasion. The local elections campaign is tainted by the same incitement that the government encourages, and unfortunately this is not surprising,” she wrote on Twitter.
Last week Meretz petitioned the Central Elections Committee against a Likud campaign in Tel Aviv that used the slogan “It’s us or them.” On Monday the Likud responded to the petition, saying the campaign – which pitted the “Hebrew city” against the “Infiltrators’ city,” was within the bounds of legitimate expression of opinion. Likud removed the posters displayed in the city, but the ads still appear on the party’s Facebook page.
The party added that the Tel Aviv ads referred only to “infiltrators,” and “do not include any statement, either explicit or implicit, against asylum seekers in Israel or against refugees in Israel who seek state protection, as the petitioners are trying to argue.” The two parties are awaiting the elections committee’s decision.