‘A colossal failure’: Likud MKs tear into Gallant during heated faction meeting

At first party meetings in Knesset following recess, lawmakers focus on criticism of the government’s management of the Gaza War and efforts to prosecute Israeli leaders at the ICC

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset for a Likud faction meeting, Jerusalem on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset for a Likud faction meeting, Jerusalem on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Likud lawmakers hurled insults at Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday, during their party’s first weekly faction meeting in the Knesset following the spring recess, after he challenged the government’s postwar thinking for the Gaza Strip, in a televised address last week.

During the heated meeting, which was closed to the press, Gallant tried to explain his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his declared opposition to Israeli rule in a post-Hamas Gaza, prompting harsh pushback from Likud colleagues.

According to the Ynet news site, MKs Tally Gotliv and Moshe Saada shouted at Gallant, while MK Amit Halevi accused him of mismanaging the Gaza conflict.

“This war is a colossal failure. You were entrusted with security,” Halevi was quoted as saying.

The rumpus in the faction meeting came only days after Gallant appeared on television to directly challenge Netanyahu’s handling of the ongoing conflict in Gaza — sparking a very public spat with the prime minister and triggering the biggest threat to the stability of the government since the start of the war.

Calling on Netanyahu to make “tough decisions” to advance non-Hamas governance of Gaza, Gallant stated that he would not consent to Israeli civil or military rule in the territorial enclave and hinted that he would not back the prime minister’s efforts to pass a proposed ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in the Knesset for a Likud faction meeting, May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Responding to Gallant’s comments, several of Netanyahu’s far-right allies called for his ouster, as did several Likud figures, including party comptroller Shai Galili, who wrote to Director-General Zuri Siso to demand that he take steps to expel Gallant from the party, Maariv reported.

Ahead of the faction meeting, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi accused Gallant of representing the interests of National Unity leader Benny Gantz, telling Army Radio that “politically, he understands that his career is finished.”

Defending himself from his colleagues’ attacks, Gallant asserted that Israel “doesn’t have enough soldiers” for an extended occupation of Gaza, which would require lengthening mandatory terms of service for IDF soldiers and insisted that, while he is “against a Palestinian state,” he believes that “neither Hamas nor Israel” should rule in Gaza.

“Likud is my home, I’m staying,” he declared, adding that “we are the successors of Begin, not of Ben Gvir.”

Likud MK Tally Gotliv in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

A source who was in the room confirmed to The Times of Israel that the Ynet report was accurate, adding that “it is clear that Gallant is a minority opinion here and that Saada has the support of most Likud members.”

Another source with knowledge of the matter said that he believes Gallant sees the looming end of his career and has decided “to do things my way,” without regard for the political consequences.

Speaking with The Times of Israel on Sunday, a senior coalition member said he did not believe efforts to expel Gallant would go anywhere, and that Netanyahu was locked into his choice of defense minister because of the war.

Firing Gallant would spark large-scale demonstrations, similar to those seen after Netanyahu previously attempted to dismiss him for speaking out against the government’s planned judicial overhaul last year, and “Netanyahu knows that he has no alternative for now.

“But probably in the future, he will find the right time for payback,” the coalition member said.

During Monday’s faction meeting, Netanyahu addressed International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against him and Gallant — as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — calling it “scandalous.”

“This will not stop me or us,” he was quoted as saying by Ynet.

Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid leads a meeting of his Yesh Atid party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During a Monday faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also tore into Khan, declaring that Israel will “not accept a comparison to Hamas.”

“It is not possible to issue arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Sinwar and Deif. There is no such comparison. We cannot accept it and it is unforgivable,” Lapid said, calling the decision “a terrible political failure.”

Despite this, Lapid continued to attack the Netanyahu government and reiterated his longtime demand that Gantz leave the coalition, arguing that he “can’t wait three weeks” to quit.

“We need this time to make a supreme effort to topple the government,” Lapid declared. “Try to imagine him still prime minister on [next] October 7 — it’s a chilling thought.”

On Saturday evening, Gantz issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu, threatening to withdraw from the coalition unless the premier commits to an agreed-upon vision for the Gaza conflict by June 8.

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outgoing Labor leader Merav Michaeli likewise criticized both Khan and Netanyahu, declaring during her own faction meeting that “it is simply a scandal to put the Israeli leadership in the same category as a vile, cruel terrorist organization. This is something we cannot accept under any circumstances.”

Attacking Netanyahu, Michaeli said that Israel is undergoing “a series of unprecedented political failures: threats of an embargo on the State of Israel, threats and consideration of economic sanctions by Western countries, by the UN, even sanctions on individual Israelis,” she said.

“Every day that Netanyahu is in power… he puts decades of Zionism, security, and building the State of Israel down the drain,” she declared.

Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Echoing comments made in numerous previous faction meetings, hawkish Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman slammed the government’s handling of the ongoing war in Gaza and along the northern border.

The campaign in Gaza is bogging down and Israel must prevent a protracted “war of attrition” even “at the cost of a dramatic escalation,” he said.

Asked if he believes that Gallant should resign, Liberman replied that “the whole government should put down their keys and go to elections.”

United Arab List chair MK Mansour Abbas leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, on February 19, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas — having recently returned from the United Arab Emirates, where he met with senior Emirati officials — told his party’s faction meeting that the Israeli government is “missing a historic opportunity” by failing to advance a diplomatic initiative that provides hope to Israelis and Palestinians alike while also ending the war and returning the hostages.

The UAE has indicated that it would be willing to join a regional effort assisting in the post-war rehabilitation of Gaza if Israel agrees to establish a pathway to a future Palestinian state. But Netanyahu has rejected such efforts, proposing instead that Abu Dhabi assist in the management of Gaza, while Israel maintains a security presence there — an idea that led to a bitter condemnation from UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed, who met with Abbas last week.

“Despite the difficult and complex reality in which we’re living, there currently lies before us a historic opportunity that we must, must not miss,” Abbas said.

Jacob Magid and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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