Crony Bashes Netanyahu for Defending High Court After Racism Accusations

Right-wing lawmaker David Amsalem says Netanyahu is 'harming the dignity of the national camp' after the former PM distanced himself from Amsalem's claims that the High Court is racist against Mizrahi Jews

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK David Amsalem, 2018.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK David Amsalem, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman

An ally of Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the former prime minister for rejecting his accusations that the Israeli High Court is racist against Mizrahi Jews – those who originate from the Middle East and North Africa.

Last week, Netanyahu, in a phone call to Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, chided his Likud party colleague David Amsalem for using harsh, ethnically charged language in the latter's brash criticism of the justice. The phone call followed Hayut's open letter rejecting the accusations, which Amsalem leveled at the High Court and at Hayut in particular last week after the court rejected all three petitions that he had filed against the government.

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Amsalem said Wednesday that Netanyahu was “harming the dignity of the national camp” in distancing himself from his remarks.

“It is unacceptable to me that he called Justice Hayut and spoke with her. Ultimately my criticism was toward her and toward the institution that is attacking us,” Amsalem said in an interview on Kan B public radio.

“For 12 years Netanyahu was prime minister, and in the end we [Likud] did nothing to undertake needed reforms of the justice system. It’s not for nothing that we've gotten to where we are now – it's been an ongoing process,” he said.

Amsalem went on to indicate that Netanyahu, while prime minister, blocked Amsalem’s efforts to rein in what the lawmaker regards as excessive judicial power.

“When I proposed the French law, the first to oppose it was Netanyahu,” he said, referring to proposed legislation to prevent a sitting prime minister from being prosecuted. “When I proposed a law that would deny the state the right to appeal, Netanyahu was the first to oppose it. As Aharon Barak said, he [Netanyahu] preserved the justice system. It’s not a joke. It’s the truth.”

The row began last week after the High Court of Justice rejected three petitions Amsalem filed against the government, after which he launched an angry attack on the court from the Knesset podium.

"These are your judges, Israel," he said. "The junta that sits on the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice of [left-wing party] Meretz, yesterday rejected my three petitions together, as if it were a coincidence. They arranged it all and said, 'Amsalem isn't getting in here.'"

High Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, 2021.Credit: Noam Revkin-Fenton

He then turned his ire on Hayut: “I want to suggest to you, Mrs. Hayut: Don't think we're fools. Instead of writing nonsense that you yourself don’t understand, write, ‘Mr. Amsalem, I can’t stand you. I can’t stand Amsalems or Makhloufs. I won’t assist you – you aren’t one of us. You don’t belong to our norms or our world.'"

Amsalem and Makhlouf are both Mizrahi names, and Makhlouf is also a reference to Likud lawmaker Arye Makhlouf Dery.

"You ignore 70 percent of the nation of Israel – all of those whose names don’t end with -vitz," he continued, referring to a common ending for Ashkenazi, or Europe-derived, Jewish names.

In Hayut's response to the lawmaker she wrote, "In the transit camp where I was born and in the cramped housing where I grew up, there were a lot of Amsalems, Makhloufs and Bitons along with Moskovitzes, Hershkovitzes and Ravitzes. ... There is nothing further from the truth than to say of me that I can’t stand Amsalems and Makhloufs."

She added: "I believe that from the place we have been privileged to reach, we both – me and you – have a responsibility to do good, to contribute to unity in Israel and not to sow division and incitement."

Netanyahu subsequently entered the dispute, revealing last week that he had told Hayut, "David Amsalem’s remarks are unacceptable, do not reflect my position and were said without my knowledge.”

He added, “In a democracy, no official is immune from criticism, but the criticism must be to the point, about the issue at hand and about the person.”

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