At rally of supporters, Netanyahu calls on right to unite and ‘return home’ to Likud

Originally planned to address recent terror wave, Jerusalem event shifts to focus on coalition crisis; ‘Israel needs a strong government,’ former PM tells thousands of backers

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Former PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a right-wing rally in Jerusalem on April 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
Former PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a right-wing rally in Jerusalem on April 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu attended a right-wing rally held in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, calling on right-wing lawmakers in the coalition “to return home,” amid a coalition crisis that has revived his hopes of toppling the government and returning to power.

The rally, attended by thousands of right-wing activists, was originally meant to protest the rampant violence that has recently swept the country, with a wave of deadly terror attacks not seen in years.

But dramatic events unfolding since Wednesday morning shifted the focus of the event toward internal politics, with Netanyahu calling on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to resign and urging unity among right-wing lawmakers.

Earlier Wednesday, MK Idit Silman, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party and the coalition whip, announced she was quitting the coalition, citing the continued “harming” of Jewish identity in Israel as the main reason for her defection. Her departure left the coalition without a parliamentary majority, and put it in immediate danger of collapse.

Addressing the right-wing rally, Netanyahu struggled to start talking, with demonstrators chanting “Bennett, go home.”

The former prime minister replied, “We’ve come here today to tell this weak and flaccid government only one thing: Go home!”

“Go home, because you’re harming the Jewish identity of the country. Go home, because you’re harming people’s livelihood. Go home, because you’re neglecting Judea and Samaria. Go home, because you’re weak — weak on Iran, weak on terror,” Netanyahu said.

He urged right-wing lawmakers in the current coalition to “put aside old grudges and return to the national camp,” referring to the political bloc led by his Likud party.

“Tonight, I want to tell you: It’s time for unity. It’s time to come home… Our door is always open. It’s open for anyone who was elected by votes from the right and wants to bring Israel back to the moral track, to the strong track, the winning track,” he said.

“When we’re united we guarantee Israel’s security. When we’re divided we get this dangerous and failed government,” he added.

Addressing recent terror attacks committed well inside Israeli territory that have claimed the lives of 11 people over the past two and a half weeks, Netanyahu suggested that Bennett’s “weakness” was to blame for the surge of violence.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar (R) are seen during a visit to the security service’s regional command in the northern West Bank and the security barrier on April 3, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“When terror smells weakness, it lifts its head. When it encounters strength, it stays low,” Netanyahu said, arguing that the past decade, during which he was prime minister, was the most secure in Israeli history (though his tenure saw numerous deadly terror attacks and several wars with Hamas in Gaza).

“There’s no place for the weak in our neighborhood,” he said. “The weak ones are attacked and the strong ones are left alone. That’s the rule,” he added.

“That’s why Israel needs a strong government. A government that will fight terrorism, that will contain Iran, that will safeguard Israel’s legacy and save the livelihood of its citizens.”

A poster showing Yamina MK Idit Silman at a right-wing rally in Jerusalem on April 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

With Silman’s exit, the current government is teetering on the blink of collapse after losing its one-seat majority, holding just 60 seats at the moment.

Netanyahu congratulated Silman for “doing the right thing” and called on other lawmakers to follow suit and defect.

“I call on those still in the coalition with a heart and a conscience — come back home. Come back to the right,” he said. “We all know, the days of this government are numbered. It’s nearing its end,” he added.

With more defectors, the opposition could potentially topple the government and either form a new coalition in the current Knesset or bring about the country’s fifth election cycle since 2019, though both these options are far from straightforward.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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