Shas's Arye Deri apologized on Friday for ethnically-charged comments he made a day earlier, in which he called Likud-Beytenu a party of "Russians and whites."

Speaking to Gali Israel radio, Deri said, "I apologize fully. It was a grave mistake, this comment on Russians and whites."

He added that he made the comments under pressure, and that he had never spoken about his "brothers" in such a way because it is not his style.

With his Thursday comments, Deri seemed to embark on a full-scale ethnic campaign, accusing the joint Likud- Yisrael Beytenu list of discriminating against Sephardim and contributing to the secularization of the state.

The campaign came in reaction to statements by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman insulting Shas’s Ariel Attias, minister of construction and housing.

Deri warned that just as the Likud “humiliated” cabinet minister Moshe Kahlon, it was trying to humiliate the rest of the Sephardi ministers.

“Now it is clear who is really in charge of Likud Beytenu,” said Deri. “Yisrael Beytenu took over the Likud in a hostile takeover. From the party of the people, the Likud has become the party of arrogance that represents Russians and whites.

This should be a wake-up call for all Sephardim that only Shas will take care of them in the next Netanyahu government.”

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Shas officials say their surveys have found that the ethnic issue helps the party. It released a new commercial that contrasts tolerant quotes about Judaism by Liberman in Hebrew, and anti-Shas quotes in Russian.

Yisrael Beytenu officials responded that the new Shas campaign and quotes were unfortunate, noting the likelihood that the two parties would sit together in the next government.

“It’s very sad that Shas has brought out the ethnic genie during the elections in 2012,” a source in Yisrael Beytenu said. “We hope they will recognize this mistake and run an issues-based, substantive campaign rather than resorting to crude attempts at electioneering.”

In an interview that angered Shas, Liberman told the haredi magazine Mishpaha: “We will demand the Interior and Housing portfolios, and Shas will get the Infrastructure portfolio, which is a very nice portfolio, and the Tourism portfolio. I think Attias was not a bad minister at all, but we will be better. Attias is fit to be tourism minister. He can travel around the world.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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