Likud Minister Gilad Erdan denied on Thursday that his party had attacked the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party during the election campaign.
The Likud carried on a smear campaign of falsified character assassination against Bayit Yehudi candidates that was an integral part of their TV and radio ads. However, Erdan said the campaign was not meant to attack Bayit Yehudi but rather to point out the differences between the two parties.
“We did not attack Bennett, and it was he who harshly criticized the Prime Minister during Operation Pillar of Defense and during the demolitions of homes in Migron,” Erdan told Channel 2 in an interview.
The Jewish Home, he said disingenuously, took votes from Likud “so naturally you want to highlight the differences between your list and his list, issues such as the status of women and refusal of orders.”
Part of the Likud’s campaign against the party led by Naftali Bennett portrayed some of the Jewish Home’s candidates as “extremists” and “sexist”. These accusations were patently untrue to anyone who knew the candidates' records, but they created a cloud of suspicion. The ads on TV featured caricature-like pictures of the candidates and a malicious-sounding dramatic voice asking if you had looked into who the people on Bennett's list really are before you decided to vote for him, followed by half-truths or total lies about each of those pictured.
Bennett, in contrast, criticized Netanyahu's actions up front - not the man himself - without the mudslinging insinuations of the Likud ads, which had many religious Zionists appalled at their nastiness and their attacks on religious Zionist rabbis.
One of the Likud’s claims was that Jewish Home candidate Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, former director-general of the rabbinical court system, had called in the past to cancel the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. A quick Internet search, however, revealed that it was, in fact, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin who sought to cancel the committee in question, as did then-Likud MK Marina Solodkin before him.
The ads claimed that Bayit Yehudi candidate Hillel Horowitz was against women. Horowitz, in fact, has eight daughters and a successful wife. For halakhic reasons, he does not attend performances where women sing, hardly proof that he is against women.
The ads claimed that candidate Orit Strook has no mind of her own and blindly obeys Rabbi Dov Lior, who "called Baruch Goldstein a martyr" and that she supports taking the law into one's own hands against Arabs, called "price tag" actions. Strook is the fiercely independent founder and head of the Human Rights Organization for Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria and acts strictly within the law - the organization works to prevent and discover infringement of the law by law enforcement officers when dealing with Jews who live in those areas. Rabbi Lior, chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, used the traditional term "martyr" for a Jew killed by gentiles when referring to the fact that Goldstein was lynched by Arabs, not to his deeds.
The Likud also claimed that Bennett had advocated for refusal of orders. This was after he said during a television interview that if he ever receives an order to evict Jews, he would ask his commander to release him from his position.
Bennett did not advocate refusing to obey orders, he talked about the terrible dilemma soldiers face when given orders to hurt Jews rather than the enemy, but candidates from the Likud were quick to seize the opportunity to claim that he did.
Ultimately, the smear campaign did not help the Likud in the elections. In fact, some have said that the campaign caused Likud voters to vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, enabling him to become the Knesset’s second largest party. The Likud Beytenu list, while being the largest party in the new Knesset, has been significantly weakened and only has 31 seats.
As for Yesh Atid, Erdan said during Thursday’s interview that it would not make sense for Lapid to ask to be appointed Foreign Minister in the next Cabinet, as some have speculated.
“It would be very strange for Lapid to be Foreign Minister, just as it was when Amir Peretz became Defense Minister,” Erdan said, referring to the 2006 elections when then-Labor chairman Amir Peretz ran for the Knesset on a social issues ticket, then asked Ehud Olmert to be Defense Minister.
Erdan said that even though there are negotiations between the Likud and Yesh Atid, it is still possible for the Likud to form a government without Lapid.
"I would suggest that everyone understand that one must also reach a compromise during negotiations, so I suggest to Lapid not to set red lines,” he said.