An election campaign video put out in the name of the Religious Zionist Party aroused anger on Saturday night for using an image of Adolf Hitler and suggesting left-wing and Arab Knesset candidates are like the Nazi leader.
Head of Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich condemned the video soon after it was posted on social media and said that it been made and disseminated “without our knowledge.”
The video showed a fictitious WhatsApp conversation between various party leaders and MKs, including Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar, who were joining a government led by Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid.
Prominent in the invented “conversation” were crude comments and jokes about the Holocaust made by the seventh-placed candidate on Labor’s electoral list Ibtisam Mara’ana.
Mara’ana made flippant and dismissive comments about Holocaust Memorial Day several years ago, specifically saying that she did not stop driving during the siren and two-minute period of silence commemorating the Holocaust, which the fictitious conversation was satirizing.
In the Religious Zionist Party’s video, Mara’ana posted an image of Hitler with a heart symbol following a reference to the Nazi era by another supposed participant in the conversation.
The video ended with the image of the Religious Zionist Party’s ballot slip and pictures of Smotrich together with Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit Party, which has partnered with Smotrich to form the Religious Zionist Party and is number three on its electoral list.
Lapid responded on Twitter to the video saying “There is no end limit to the abomination of Smotrich and Ben Gvir,” and denounced its use of Holocaust imagery.
“Everything is allowed in the name of racism and extremism. This is a disgrace and a disgrace to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu who is doing everything to get these extremists into the Knesset,” said the Yesh Atid leader.
Smotrich distanced himself from the video, saying two hours after it was posted that as the third generation of a Holocaust survivor he viewed references to the Holocaust as outside the bounds of legitimate political debate.
“We have a fierce debate with Bennett, who refuses to commit to joining a right-wing government and is heading towards the establishment of a government headed by Lapid and [Labor leader MK] Merav Michaeli, but this debate must be conducted along clear lines. Using Hitler and the Holocaust is outside of those lines. Period,” said Smotrich.
Ben-Gvir responded to the uproar by apologizing to Bennett and saying he was not like “Meretz and Lapid,” but chastising him for failing to rule out sitting in government with Lapid.
Separately, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar said that Yesh Atid chairman and leader of the opposition MK Yair Lapid could not lead a government because the majority of the public is right of center.
Speaking on Channel 12’s Meet the Press on Saturday night, Sa’ar said that he would partner with parties on the left but that such parties could not lead a coalition.
Asked if Lapid was fit to be prime minister, Sa’ar said “no,” asserting that “Lapid is not a new candidate,” and that he has “tried five times” to win an election in reference to Yesh Atid’s emergence back in 2013 and the five election campaigns the party has fought.
“Lapid cannot bring the necessary change and [Yamina leader Naftali] Bennett isn’t committed to bringing change,” said Sa’ar in reference to Bennett’s ongoing refusal to state whether he would join a Netanyahu-led government or not.
Having exchanged numerous political attacks against each other of late, Sa’ar said at the end of last week that he would cease his verbal assaults on his main competitor for right-wing votes, aside from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The New Hope leader also brushed over the past controversial comments of Mara’ana, describing her as “an extremist” but said he could nevertheless still work with Labor, calling it “a legitimate party.”