“The haredim [ultra-Orthodox] are flocking to the ballot boxes,” Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday morning, mimicking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about Arab-Israelis in 2015.
The move helped his party stay stable as early exit polls indicated Yisrael Beytenu would receive between six and eight seats. It had six in Channel 12’s poll, seven in Channel 11’s and eight in Channel 13. The party had seven seats in the outgoing Knesset.
Speaking at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, he said secular Israelis need to vote in higher numbers to remove Netanyahu and the haredim from power.
Some 1,200,000 people in cities with large secular majorities did not vote in the last election, including five Knesset seats worth of voters in Tel Aviv alone, Liberman said.
“The haredim are flocking to the ballot boxes,” he said. “Now it is the turn of the secular to go and vote. The haredim are flocking to the polls. What about you?”
Liberman has for the last two elections focused on haredi voter turnout, claiming that they have an advantage because their rabbis say voting is a religious obligation, and those who do not vote could face spiritual consequences.
Since Election Day is a national holiday and citizens receive a paid vacation day, Liberman has proposed a law whereby only those who vote would be eligible, hoping to increase voter turnout among the secular population.
In response, United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni said Liberman was an “antisemite” and denounced the lack of widespread condemnation of his remarks.
“When Bibi talked about the Arabs flocking to the ballot boxes, the entire country was outraged and demanded he retract his comments,” he said. “Now, this antisemite Liberman stands up, says the haredim are flocking to the ballot boxes, and everyone is quiet.”
Liberman should be put on trial for incitement, Gafni said.
“We will give our response at the ballot box… and we will wipe the smile off this antisemite’s face,” he said.
Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev (UTJ) said: “Liberman is a racist and a tyrant. Everyone should condemn him. Liberman is a danger. We will give our response at the ballot box.”
The haredi parties have cited Liberman’s acerbic comments about UTJ, Shas and haredim in general in their campaign ads.
The senior rabbinic leadership of UTJ has cited incitement by “the haters of religion” in their public calls to haredim to vote for the haredi parties.
On Election Day in March 2015, Netanyahu posted a video on social media warning his voters that “Arabs are flocking to the ballot boxes in droves.”
The comment was widely seen as race baiting against Arab-Israelis and was roundly condemned. Netanyahu apologized for the remarks.