An Israeli minister belonging to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party accused fellow cabinet member and head of the left-wing Meretz party Yossi Sarid of using the same methods as the Nazis, an accusation which brought down the wrath of Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Sarid "incites hatred and delegitimizes us in the same way that the Jews were portrayed in Nazi propaganda at the time of the Holocaust," Health Minister Shlomo Benizri told Israeli radio.
Barak immediately issued a statement condemning the attack.
"We strongly and unreservedly condemn such comparisons which have no place in dialogue in Israel," he said.
Barak's shaky coalition suffered a severe blow last week when Shas, which has four ministers and 17 members of parliament, voted with the opposition to call for early elections.
Its revolt was provoked by the continuing refusal of Education Minister Sarid to release funding for their network of religious schools, which he believes have been mismanaged, and Barak's announcement that he was no longer prepared to negotiate the issue with them.
Barak told a weekly cabinet meeting Sunday he hoped to end the row within the next 24 hours.
Sarid downplayed Benizri's charges when asked about them by the radio.
"It is not the first time he has insulted me. The style is the man. The public now knows the kind of person they are dealing with. My patience has its limits, and in the next few days we shall see how the government crisis pans out," he said.
In March, Shas's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef caused uproar when he used his regular sermon at a Jerusalem synagogue to describe Sarid as Satan, saying he should be "wiped off the earth" and calling for the congregation to curse the minister.
Attorney General Eliyakim Rubinstein announced that he would be investigated under Israel's terrorism laws for encouraging violence, which could lead to killing, insulting a public official and defamation.
Yosef has also accused Sarid of being racist and accusing hating the Torah, the sacred Jewish book of law.
The party's political leader Eli Yishai, who is Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, denounced the inquiry as a "racist and discriminatory" act against Sephardic Jews.
Benizri charged: "We are considered second class citizens." - OCCUPIED JERUSDALEM (AFP)
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