An opinion piece in the Haaretz newspaper which described Israel’s national religious community as being "worse than Hezbollah" drew widespread condemnation Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and politicians across the spectrum calling for an apology.
The column by Haaretz writer Yossi Klein accused Israel’s national religious community of deceitfully attempting to take over and subvert the country, while carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
“The national religious are dangerous. More dangerous than Hezbollah, more than drivers in car-ramming attacks or kids with scissors. The Arabs can be neutralized, but they cannot,” he wrote.
Klein continued with his scathing assessment of the community, asking: "What do they want? To take control of the state and cleanse it of Arabs. If asked, they will deny it. They know that it is too early to be out in the open.
"Do not believe their denials. Their religious nationalism is extreme nationalism, wrapped in a pious reverence,” he continued. “It permeates the education system, it is getting stronger in the army and affects the Supreme Court. They are already on their way to us, another moment and they break down the door."
The article was met with anger from members of the national religious community, including several government ministers, as well as from more publically centrist politicians.
“The article in Haaretz is shameful and disgraceful,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook late Wednesday. “The national religious community is the salt of the earth, their sons and daughters serve in the army and national volunteer service for the state of Israel and the security of Israel.
"I am proud of them like the rest of the country’s citizens. Haaretz needs to apologize.”
Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, whose famously far-left wing paper prides itself on being a voice of dissent, responded to the fierce backlash, writing on twitter of his bewliderment at the extend of the attention the article has drawn.
"I can’t figure out what all the excitement is (Pavlovian, I must say) over Yossi Klein’s column. He is just saying something similar to what I said six years ago” Schocken wrote, referring to an article he penned in which he accused the national religious community of practicing apartheid, a piece that also gave rise to a controversy at the time.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) wrote on Facebook that she received a message from the mother of Benaya Rein, killed in the Second Lebanon War that Israel fought against Hezbollah in 2006, calling Klein a racist and asking her to let him know that her son died “so he could continue being a journalist.”
Education Minister and leader of the Bayit Yehudi party Naftali Bennett, told Channel 2 news that he too had received complaints from two families of fallen soldiers, saying that the article was harmful.
“Just when you think that Haaretz has sunk to its very lowest, it surprises you with a new low. No national religious, or leftists, or Arabs or any other group deserves a writer making an abusive, stupid accusation like this,” he said on Facebook. “Before it ends in blood, Haaretz, stop.”
But the criticism was not exclusively espoused by members on the political right. Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, branded the column “anti-Semitic,” asking rhetorically if a number of national religious Israelis, including fellow lawmakers, were more dangerous than the terror group.
However, while lambasting the content of the article, prominent members of the opposition, including its leader Isaac Herzog and MK Shelly Yachimovich, accused Netanyahu of using similar language against Arabs, union members and others.
Nevertheless, Herzog still said the column deserved “every condemnation” and Yachimovich labelled it “inciteful, infuriating and full of indiscriminate hatred.”
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) refrained frm decrying the article, criticizing instead the uniform responses of politicians on both sides of the spectrum.
“I would be more excited by the national shock over Klein if Bennett or Netanyahu—you know what, Herzog or Shelly—would tweet when leftists are called traitors or chicken sh*t.”
(Translated & edited by Lior Mor)