'Bennett backs a man who wants to blow up the Dome of the Rock'
After Likud attacks Habayit Hayehudi candidate Jeremy Gimpel over controversial Jerusalem comments, Bennett attacks Netanyahu for "waging a campaign against national-religious Jews" • Likud: Bennett is trying to divert attention from his extremist list.
Mati Tuchfeld, Efrat Forsher, Shlomo Cesana and Yehuda Shelzinger and Israel Hayom Staff
Naftali Bennett: accused by the Likud party of trying to distract attention from his extremist party comrades.
Photo credit: Roey Alimah
Jeremy Gimpel, No. 14 on Habayit Hayehudi's list, in a campaign video.
Photo credit: LandofIsrael YouTube Channel
A campaign sign for Naftali Bennett on a main road in Tel Aviv, defaced by an apparently angry citizen.
Photo credit: Amir Mizroch
With just two days to go before Israelis go to the polls, the battle between the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties for right-wing voters is escalating even further.
In an interview with Channel 2's “Meet the Press” program on Saturday night, Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett turned to the camera and addressed Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Mr. Prime Minister, you have signed on to a despicable campaign against the knitted skullcaps [national religious Jews], which reminds me of the exact same attacks on you after the Rabin assassination [in 1995, when Netanyahu was opposition leader and was criticized for having helped inflame the situation]," Bennett said. "[Netanyahu] has launched an ugly campaign the scale of which I have not seen before. It is incredible. Netanyahu is once again engaged in friendly fire against the knitted skullcaps, and is oblivious to the historic damage he is inflicting by having this rupture with the very constituents who have twice propelled him to the premiership."
Bennett’s comments came a day after the airing of a controversial video in which one of his party's candidates, Jeremy Gimpel, speaks about the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the ruins of the Dome of the Rock, the Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount.
Jeremy Gimpel, in his controversial lecture in Florida, talks about rebuilding the Temple (minute 40).
Gimpel, who occupies the 14th slot on the Habayit Hayehudi list, made his controversial remarks during a lecture in Florida in 2011. A portion was aired on Channel 2's Friday night news magazine, and shows Gimpel speaking about the return of Jews from the Babylonian Exile and their subsequent construction of the Second Temple, noting that this is in line with biblical prophecies. At one point, Gimpel, who repeatedly makes reference to scripture, quotes a verse from the Book of Ezra, "They [the Jews] lay the cornerstone of the Temple in Jerusalem." He then says, "Imagine today if the dome, the golden dome [Dome of the Rock], I am being recorded so I can't say blown up, but let's say the dome is blown up, right, and we laid the cornerstone of the Temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine?"
Confronted with these statements on Saturday night, Bennett said they had been taken out of context.
"I stand by all the great folks in my party list. I don't disown anyone,” Bennett said. “You took a segment of the clip and made it into a headline that he [Gimpel] wants to have it [the Dome of the Rock] blown up. He did not call for any such thing."
He then praised Gimpel, touting his service in the Israel Defense Forces and his efforts to make Israel's case among Americans. "I am proud of Jeremy Gimpel," Bennett said.
On Saturday, MK Yoel Hasson (Hatnuah) wrote on his Facebook page that he planned to ask the head of the Central Election Committee Justice Elyakim Rubinstein to disqualify Gimpel as a candidate because of his "words of incitement." Hasson also said Habayit Hayehudi had a "delusional" list that would bring about a "third world war." Hasson filed the official complaint on Sunday.
Habayit Hayehudi shot back at Hasson's party and its leader, saying, "It is unfortunate that Hasson is using statements that were said as part of a Bible study event as a means of undoing the collapse of [Hatnuah leader] Tzipi Livni's party and uses lies to advance his cause. As for being delusional, that applies to Livni's call for dividing Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state that would unleash more and more terrorism, a policy the public has lost faith in."
Likud was quick to attack Bennett over his criticism of Netanyahu, saying that "in his hysterical appearance [on “Meet the Press”] he tried to steer the debate away from the candidates on his party list. To that end he is willing to attack the prime minister in a very embarrassing and debasing way. It is rather sad that he engaged in such action as a means of obscuring his list and misleading the public."
A Likud official echoed those remarks, saying it was "hypocritical to accuse Netanyahu of waging a campaign against the religious [Zionists], as he himself has been repeatedly criticized over the years for having too many religious people staff his bureau."
Another official in the joint Yisrael Beytenu-Likud campaign said, "Bennett is anxious because he is unable to hide his Knesset list the way he had hoped for, and with every passing day new revelations surface regarding his candidates, some of whom are borderline delusional."
He added that the Likud campaign was not behind the release of the Gimpel video. "We had nothing to do with it, and even so, when Bennett was asked about it he actually defended him [Gimpel] and launched an assault on the prime minister," the official said.
Over the weekend, sources inside the ruling party have warned of the dire consequences should Habayit Hayehudi win 14 seats or more in the election, which would result in Gimpel serving as an MK. But for all the animosity between the two parties, political analysts believe both sides would find a way to sit at the same cabinet table once the elections are over, and that Netanyahu would prefer a coalition that would include all the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas criticized Bennett continues too. The party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef attacked Habayit Hayehudi, saying, "They are all evil Torah-haters and mitzvot-haters."
Yosef said that Bennett's platform called for public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath.
"What kind of religious person wants to violate the Sabbath? Some of their [prospective] Knesset members are deniers of true Judaism; they subscribe to unadulterated secularism," Yosef said. "The yarmulke on his [Bennett’s] head is as small as his eyes, and he is a religious imposter. They call themselves ‘The Jewish Home’ [Habayit Hayehudi], but this is a home for the non-Jews."
Habayit Hayehudi later issued a short statement in response, saying only: "We respect the rabbi."
But Habayit Hayehudi candidate MK Uri Orbach said Yosef's comments reflected misinformation "fed by the three bandits, the leaders of Shas [party co-leaders Aryeh Deri, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias].”
Speaking on the privately owned radio station Radio Lelo Hafsaka, Orbach said Shas' attacks underscored its "anxiousness over the fact that we are siphoning off votes from their pool of supporters."
Orbach also attacked the other parties for trying to besmirch Habayit Hayehudi candidates.
"The Likud attacks us for being too religious and Shas accuses us of being too secular," he said. "We don't need anyone to vouch for our religiousness and our love of the Torah. We are true Jews, who love the Torah, the land of Israel and the State of Israel, and the Shasniks have no business scrutinizing our record to determine whether we are in good standing."
Shas leader Aryeh Deri posted a statement on his Facebook page on Saturday, saying his party had erred by "trying to appeal only to the Likud-Beytenu constituencies; our message should have been directed at others as well — Habayit Hayehudi."