An election campaign video posted on social media Sunday by Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid brought the tensions at the helm of the party to the fore, and also drew fire from the political alliance's opponents who criticized it as “anti-Semitic.”
The video portrays the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties preparing to extort huge amounts of funding from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in return for supporting moves that would grant him immunity from prosecution.
The video features a fabricated WhatsApp exchange between Likud MK David Bitan and Netanyahu’s presumed future coalition partners, in which they are asked to sign a declaration of loyalty similar to the one the Likud Knesset candidates signed.
“You want me to sign, hand over another trillion shekels for the yeshivas,” texts Shas leader Arye Dery, while United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman writes, “I want all the money that Israel has.”
A source in Kahol Lavan told Haaretz: “Lapid is only deepening the rift with the Haredi parties instead of placating them. In a competition with [Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman’s anti-Haredi campaign, Lapid is conducting a discourse that will make it difficult to work with these parties after the election.”
Another senior Kahol Lavan figure said: “This incident doesn’t reveal cracks in the leadership. It’s hard to say that this video is a major factor in intensifying the hateful discourse in Israel. Obviously the style and wording aren’t great, but the response to it is a bit disproportional.”
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During the morning, Litzman was quick to make clear to Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz that unless he publicly repudiated the “blatant incitement campaign,” he was a full and direct partner to the “hate crime committed against an entire community in Israel, which is struggling for its rights and needs.”
Litzman added: “When I dusted off my clothes on the Knesset podium after Lapid touched me, some said that was excessive. Today everyone understands that Lapid is still the same Lapid, who is all about spreading poisonous hatred between the communities.”
Shas issued a statement saying it had petitioned the Central Elections Committee over the video, urging it to issue an injunction to prevent the video from being distributed.
The petition said the video portrayed ultra-Orthodox party leaders as "money grabbers who care about nothing but wealth. And thus, the video expresses a racist message that seeks to damage the shared fabric of life in Israel between the different 'tribes,' [and] has a real potential for incitement and offending the feelings of the ultra-Orthodox community, and it exceeds the accepted and permissible political messages."
Gantz did post a message that contained veiled criticism of Lapid, calling on his party to “adopt a different style from that of Netanyahu and to spread love without judgment.” Gantz did not mention the video directly but added: “The strength of Israeli society is based on the unity of all its parts – secular and religious, Jews and non-Jews, left and right. That’s the proper path for Israeli leaders at this time.”
Moshe Ya’alon attacked Lapid more directly. “That’s not my style, nor that of Benny Gantz,” Ya’alon told Army Radio. “We are speaking about unity; we do not favor a discourse of hate. Something slipped out here that we have to discuss among us. We will find a way to clarify this. We are all meeting again Wednesday and we will hash this out.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticized Lapid. “The incitement by prime ministerial candidate Yair Lapid, worded in an anti-Semitic tone, proves yet again why Yair Lapid must not be allowed to be prime minister,” Netanyahu tweeted.
Toward evening Lapid posted a response, in which he did not renounce the controversial video.
“I see that the Haredi activists are screaming ‘anti-Semitism.’ The video was a joke (at Bibi’s expense, actually),” Lapid wrote, using the premier’s nickname. He added, “Those that incite indiscriminately scream ‘incitement.’ Those conducting the hateful discourse yell ‘hate.’ It won’t help them. I do not plan to accept moralizing from those who don’t stop cursing and slandering.”