Jewish Home head to Netanyahu: You can't be defense minister

Bennett, 8 other ministers join protest against government response to terror

Education minister also slams PM Netanyahu in cabinet meeting tirade, accusing him of spending more time undermining his political opponents than fighting terror

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett attending a rally protesting ongoing terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 16, 2018. (Courtesy)
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett attending a rally protesting ongoing terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 16, 2018. (Courtesy)

Nine government ministers, including Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and four members of the ruling Likud party, joined a protest rally against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, accusing him of being weak on combating a spate of West Bank terror attacks.

Bennett addressed the rally outside the Prime Minister’s Office, where he accused Netanyahu of failing to protect Israelis against terror attacks, before tearing into the premier at the cabinet meeting over his security policy.

Speaking to the crowd of some 200 right-wing activists calling for a tougher response to recent terror attacks in the West Bank, Education Minister Bennett said that the “security establishment… has chosen the rights of Palestinians over the security of Israelis.”

Bennett said that when Netanyahu appointed himself defense minister two weeks ago — a position that the Jewish Home leader had unsuccessfully demanded for himself — he “promised a change in policy, to restore power” over Israel’s enemies.

“That has not happened yet,” Bennett charged in front of a banner reading, “We’re done being silent because we’re sick of dying.”

“Bibi, resign, you are not wanted anymore!” the crowd chanted, using the nickname of the prime minister.

Several people waved flags of the banned racist far-right Kach party and called to burn down Arab villages.

Settlers and right-wing activists protest against ongoing terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 16, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The rally, which was attended by eight other ministers including four from the Likud party, followed similar demonstrations on Thursday and Saturday night and came after a deadly week in the West Bank.

On Thursday, two Israeli soldiers were killed, a third was critically wounded, and an Israeli woman civilian was seriously injured in a terrorist shooting near the Givat Assaf outpost. Last Sunday, close to the nearby Ofra settlement, seven Israelis were shot and injured in a terror attack, including a pregnant woman, whose baby, delivered by C-section, died Wednesday.

In his public comments at the opening of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the government has responded to the attacks by taking “firm measures in [strengthening] security and settlement.”

“Our forces located and killed two of the terrorists, the third surrendered himself to our forces, and with the fourth we are working hard to find him and carry out the same with him,” the prime minister said.

Once cameras left, Bennett reportedly railed at Netanyahu, blaming him for the uptick in attacks and the potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region.

After Jewish Home’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said she would abstain from a Knesset vote this week appointing Netanyahu the permanent defense minister, Bennett told the premier, “You cannot be defense minister, the unrest in the West Bank is on the IDF.”

Shaked, who also attacked Netanyahu in her own speech at the rally, said at the cabinet meeting that “Bennett should be defense minister.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 16, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

In an raw exchange involving several senior ministers, first reported by Hadashot news and later confirmed to The Times of Israel by a coalition source, Netanyahu responded that “you two are doing something inappropriate that should not be done. The defense establishment is acting as it should.”

Referring to Bennett’s unfulfilled vow to leave the coalition if he were not appointment defense minister, Netanyahu goaded, “We already know about your ultimatums.”

Bennett against hit back, saying, “It’s a shame you don’t fight terror like you do your own ministers.”

When Likud’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz chimed in to defend Netanyahu, saying he was doing an “excellent job,” Shaked told him and the prime minister to “stop with the bullshit.” She added that Katz was trying to curry favor because he himself wanted to be appointed foreign minister, another position currently held by Netanyahu, which he says he will give to another cabinet member in January.

Following the tense meeting, the Likud party said in a statement, “Bennett opened the morning with a demonstration against the government in which he is a member, and then went on to a childish horror show at the cabinet meeting in a desperate attempt to get the defense portfolio.”

The Jewish Home party released its own statement saying that “Netanyahu is paralyzed by a fear of jurists and the attorney general. The enemy recognizes this and has therefore ceased to be afraid.

“Instead of fighting Jewish Home,” the statement continued, “the time has come for the prime minister to get rid of ‘fake justice’ and fake morality,’ and to fight terrorism.”

The comments follow recent arguments by Bennett that the army has become too concerned with the legalities of war to fight effectively. At the Sunday morning rally, Bennett claimed that a consequence of that concern was Netanyahu’s failure to destroy the homes of terrorists immediately after attacks are committed.

Ari Fuld, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist outside a West Bank shopping mall on September 16, 2018. (Facebook)

The IDF on Sunday again announced its intention to seal shut the apartment of a Palestinian terrorist who stabbed to death an American-Israeli man, Ari Fuld, in September. On Saturday, the military demolished the home of a Palestinian charged with killing Israeli soldier Staff Sgt. Ronen Lubarsky earlier this year. The IDF detonated explosives in the four-story building inhabited by the family of Islam Yousef Abu Hamid in the al-Am’ari refugee camp close to Ramallah.

Bennett, along with Shaked, called on Netanyahu to fulfill a previous promise to destroy the structures within 48 hours of such attacks and not to wait months. “Do what you said you would,” he demanded.

In her speech, Shaked said that the government needed to do “many, many things that were not being done,” including preventing all Palestinian Authority payments to families of terrorists and authorizing more settlement construction.

In addition to Bennett and Shaked, Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel of Jewish Home attended the rally. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Environmental Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Science Minister Ofir Akunis and Social Welfare Minister Haim Katz — all members of Likud — also attended. Kulanu ministers Eli Cohen and Yoav Gallant also spoke.

The two Jewish Home leaders also demanded that the government advance legislation that will require the state to legalize 66 illegal outposts located deep in the West Bank.

The bill is known as Regulation Law 2 and seeks to regulate hilltop communities built beyond the Green Line over the past 20 years, in light of the High Court of Justice’s freezing of the so-called Regulation Law passed in February 2017.

Fed up with the state’s handling of his proposal as it approached its two-year anniversary since being passed by the Knesset, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich put forward Regulation Law 2, which focuses on illegal outposts that are claimed to have been built on what is considered to be state land, rather than private Palestinian land.

After the cabinet meeting, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted in favor of lending coalition support to the bill in its preliminary Knesset reading.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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