Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud allies took aim at the party’s rivals in the Center-Right bloc on Sunday, releasing new negative ads, slogans and messages targeting Bayit Yehudi and Shas.
The first ads released by Likud last week targeted only left-wing politicians, mocking Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Meretz’s Zehava Gal- On, and the leaders of The Tzipi Livni Party. But the Likud’s strategy changed following Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett’s statements Thursday night regarding refusing orders to evacuate settlements.
The Likud published anonymous newspaper advertisements on Sunday declaring Bennett irresponsible. A Likud ad released later in the day compared Bennett’s controversial statements to those of dovish Labor candidate Merav Michaeli, who said two years ago that she does not believe mothers should have to send their sons to the army.
“Soldiers will refuse to guard settlements in Judea and Samaria and attack enemy countries,” the Likud warned in the commercial.
Party officials said the goal of the ads was to reinforce the message that Israelis on the moderate Right cannot support Bennett and his political allies in Bayit Yehudi, including Hebron residents Orit Struck and Hillel Horowitz.
Bennett responded with an advertisement of his own, signed by 62 veterans of his elite General Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) defending and praising him. At several public events on Sunday, Bennett called upon Netanyahu to stop attacking him.
“You might have gotten advice from your strategists to pile on more and more, but it is tearing apart Israeli society,” Bennett said. “We are from the same camp; we served in the same unit. Don’t fire inside the tank. The attacks from within the national camp must stop.”
Bennett clarified his stance on refusing orders in his parents’ native English before a group of a few hundred people, many of whom were young professionals, at a Sunday night lecture hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon, a non-partisan, non-profit organization created for the benefit of young olim.
“On Thursday night, I was interviewed by Nissim Mishal, a very tough interview, and that’s the understatement of the year, and I was asked whether I would expel Jews from their homes if ordered to,” he said.
“I want to be very clear now. I did a lot of thought over the weekend, and by the way it was Shabbat so I didn’t know Netanyahu and the Likud had opened the gates of hell on me over Shabbat.”
Bennett continued by saying that he was no longer a private citizen, and he understands the responsibility he now has.
“So what I say now is what I stand behind,” he said. “Any soldier in the IDF that gets an order, a terrible order to uproot a Jewish village or an Arab village for that matter, which is horrible, too much to tolerate, but if the government voted for that... every soldier has to obey democratically given orders, myself included. I don’t think I can be clearer than that; that is what I stand behind.”
On Sunday Likud also opened fire on Shas, warning that the party would soon draft legislation requiring yeshiva students to serve in the IDF, vowing to take the Construction and Housing Ministry back from Shas and promising ads attacking one of Shas’s leaders, Arye Deri, for supporting the Oslo diplomatic process.
“Deri is not our natural partner the way Shas used to be when only Eli Yishai was in charge,” a Likud official said in a remark that angered leading Shas officials.
Sources in Shas said it was now clear that Netanyahu did not want them in his next coalition. They said all political options would be open to the party, including recommending to President Shimon Peres that Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich form the next government instead of Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu is known in politics as someone who takes advantage of people and then throws them away without even letting them know,” a Shas official said.
On Saturday night, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef defended Shas’s tenure in control of the Construction and Housing Ministry, saying that its current Minister Ariel Attias had worked for all sectors of society.
“There was a whole stream of construction and housing ministers who didn’t do anything,” the rabbi claimed. “They sat and smoked [their] water pipe.”
Politicians on the Center-Left mocked Likud for attacking Bayit Yehudi and Shas when there are several candidates on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list who have publicly advocated refusing to dismantle settlements.
They cited Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau, MK Tzipi Hotovely, and candidate Moshe Feiglin.
“Netanyahu is leading the union of the refusers: refusers of service, refusers of order and refusers of negotiations,” Livni said.
“The combination of Netanyahu, Bennett and his haredi associates creates this union of refusers. In Israel, there is a struggle over the source of authority of our lives here – there is a group that thinks it’s the Halacha and rabbis, and not the law and judges.
We cannot accept this situation and we must form a union against this union of refusers.”