Lapid defends controversial video, denies reports of rift within Blue and White

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid on Wednesday denied reports of a rift within the the centrist union, after some fellow party members in recent days chided him for a campaign video that was derided as anti-Semitic.

In an interview with the Walla news site, Lapid said his spot was poking fun at the Likud party for forcing its candidates in the upcoming elections to sign a loyalty pledge backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and was not meant to be offensive to the ultra-Orthodox community.

“For every Haredi person that was outraged there was one who laughed and actually got the joke,” he said of the video, which portrayed ultra-Orthodox members of Netanyahu’s government as money-grubbing politicians.

“I don’t have anything to apologize for, it wasn’t meant to be offensive,” Lapid said, adding that aides of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz saw and approved the video before it was posted.

“I sent it to the campaign managers first… they saw it, it was funny,” he said.

The video released by Lapid on Sunday portrayed a fictional group chat in the popular messaging service WhatsApp, in which leaders of several small parties are asked to swear to support the candidacy of “Benjamin Netanyahu, the first of his name, messenger of God, leader of the right and father of dragons.”

In the video, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri responds by saying, “You want me to sign? Give another trillion shekels for the yeshivas” while United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman says, “I want all the money in Israel.”

Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers roundly condemned the video, saying it offensively employed anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and “crossed a red line.”

Gantz made no mention of the video, but appeared to criticize Lapid in a tweet Monday: “The strength of Israeli society comes from its unity, including all sectors — secular and religious, Jews and non-Jews, left and right. That is the appropriate way for Israel’s leadership to behave at this time.”

Moshe Ya’alon, another member of the party’s top tier, later told media outlets he and Gantz had opposed the video, which was “not their style.”

But Lapid on Wednesday downplayed the implicit criticism from his electoral partners, saying the disagreement over the video was minor and boiled down to a difference in leadership style.

“Benny is statesmanlike and levelheaded, whereas I’m a bit of a wild man,” Lapid said. “There’s a difference in approach between me and Benny, and that’s why it’s a good thing that we are both here.”

Gantz and Lapid are in a rotation agreement under which if Blue and White wins the elections, party leader Gantz will be premier for 2.5 years followed by deputy leader Lapid for the remaining year and a half of the term.

“There are far fewer arguments than you might think, despite tensions and all the controversies in the party leadership, Blue and White is a real success story,” Lapid said.

On Tuesday, a senior Blue and White member told The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language site, Zman Yisrael, that Lapid’s ad targeting Netanyahu was alienating the ultra-Orthodox. Lapid, the source said, was personally “standing between us and winning the election.”

“Lapid’s remarks are destroying our campaign,” the unnamed party official said. “After all, we don’t want to argue with anyone, only with Netanyahu. This is ‘just not Bibi.’ Do you see us arguing with [Democratic Camp candidate] Ehud Barak or [Labor leader] Amir Peretz, or even the ultra-Orthodox? What is that good for?”

A month and a half before the September 17 election, there is growing speculation among some observers that some form of unity government could be the only viable result of the race. According to current opinion polls, Netanyahu’s Likud does not appear to have a Knesset majority with just religious right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties after the dramatic falling out in May between the prime minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

Similarly, Blue and White appears to be unable to cobble together a coalition with parties to its left, and, without Likud, would need to build a government propped up by mutually antagonistic secularists and ultra-Orthodox factions — a similarly unlikely prospect.

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu expressed his opposition to a unity government with Blue and White, rejecting Liberman’s push for such a coalition.

Liberman has vowed to demand a unity government consisting of his party, Likud and Blue and White that does not include ultra-Orthodox factions if no one can form a coalition after the elections without Yisrael Beytenu.

However, a Walla poll published Monday showed that a majority of the Israeli public opposes a unity government led by Netanyahu that brings together the Likud party and Blue and White.

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