Culture Minister Miri Regev.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from opposing parties’ accusations of racism on Sunday, only days after she said she took a back seat in the campaign because voters prefer the “white tribe.”
Regev, whose parents came to Israel from Morocco, was asked on a Channel 13 talk show last week why she was not part of a selfie Netanyahu took with the top seven candidates in Likud, all of whom are men of Ashkenazi origin.
“The prime minister explained it to me,” she said. “The mission is to move undecided voters to the Right. It’s no secret that the voting pattern in Israel is for Ashkenazim from the white tribe. When you understand that, they put the seven who will bring votes from the Center-Left to the Right. I’m happy that the voting pattern in Likud is different. The fact is that for 10 years I’ve been number five in the primaries.
Regev added: “I’m not in the photo, because it could be the prime minister thought this helps bring a different population to the Likud. I can respect the decision even if I don’t understand it.”
The Ashkenazi-Mizrahi tensions, called a “demon” in Israeli political parlance, have come up as electoral issues for decades, usually in Likud’s favor, with Menachem Begin buoyed to the premiership in 1977 and 1981 in part because of support from Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin.
On Sunday, Regev clarified that she was not saying Netanyahu instructed to leave her out.
“The prime minister didn’t know about the photo that was disseminated and never talked to me about the Mizrahi issue,” she wrote on Facebook. “It’s all a lie and a racist spin by [Blue and White leaders Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz, [Gabi] Ashkenazi and [Labor leader Avi] Gabbay. It won’t work for them.”
Regev wrote in another Facebook post that “the Likud government did much to fix the injustices of Mapai” – Labor’s name in the early years of the state – “and will continue to fix the injustices against Mizrahi Jews.”
Netanyahu also denied ever leaving Regev out of the Likud campaign.
“I never said anything like that,” he said in an interview with Channel 12. “Likud is the most anti-racist thing, we all embrace each other, the voters and the elected officials.”
Regev’s comments were compounded with Labor campaign videos from the past week based on a quote, which Netanyahu has denied ever saying, from a book about his family saying that the soldiers in the Golani Brigade are “OK as long as they have white officers.”
“Once a racist, always a racist,” is the tag-line on the videos, and Labor leader Avi Gabbay has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of racism and “cataloging people by the color of their skin.”
Regev pointed out that Netanyahu appointed Gadi Eisenkot – who is both of Moroccan origin and was in Golani – as IDF chief of staff.
On Saturday night, Gabi Ashkenazi, who despite his name is of Sephardi and Mizrahi descent, also spoke on this theme, saying, “I need to keep myself calm and measure my words,” implying anger at the supposed Netanyahu quote.
“I am embarrassed for Netanyahu and for all of this... this is a very sad and shameful thing,” he said. “We never judged people by their skin color. That is an embarrassment, a shame and a disgrace.”
Netanyahu also said that the quote in the Labor videos is a “terrible libel, total nonsense."
“I admire Golani soldiers,” he added. “I think of every soldier as my son.”
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