'Bibi has something personal against me'

Bennett blasts Netanyahu for enmity, virus response: ‘It’s unforgivable’

As his party climbs in polls, Yamina chief continues his criticism of government’s handling of pandemic, steps up personal accusations against premier

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a visit in downtown Jerusalem on August 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a visit in downtown Jerusalem on August 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party, launched a blistering attack against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday night, accusing the premier of opposing him due to fear and personal enmity at the expense of voters.

In a fiery interview with Channel 12, Bennett continued his ongoing criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus, but stepped up his personal accusations against the premier.

Bennett, currently in the opposition, is a thorn in Netanyahu’s right flank, and seen by some as a possible successor as prime minister after future elections, along with opposition leader Yair Lapid.

The broadside came after Yamina surged in polls (to some 19 seats from its current 5) as Israelis soured on the government’s response to the pandemic amid a severe second wave outbreak.

When asked what Netanyahu had against him personally, Bennett said, “You’re asking if it’s personal? The answer is yes. I always avoided talking about it.

“First of all I want to say I respect Prime Minister Netanyahu very much. Israel won a victory by having him as our prime minister for such a long time. He did great things for the benefit of Israel,” Bennett said.

He added, however, that Netanyahu had attacked him, his parents, his wife, and “hurt his children.”

“Bibi has something personal against me,” Bennett said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “I submitted a plan to defeat the coronavirus on March 29th to the prime minister, and he did not implement it, and he knew it was correct, because he was afraid of me, that I would succeed.

“Because he didn’t implement that plan at the time, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering,” Bennett charged.

Shamir Medical Center personnel at the hospital’s coronavirus ward of Shamir in Be’er Ya’akov, near Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Our government, Netanyahu, Gantz, this whole government, put politics and personal things first, because he is afraid of me, so yes, it’s personal, it’s very personal, and it’s unforgivable.”

“He’s now putting petty politics, and because he’s afraid of me, hundreds of thousands of people are in existential dread,” he said, referring to Israelis in economic crisis.

Bennett however refrained from saying he would angle to be prime minister in the next round of elections when pressed by the show’s hosts.

“Everyone will know who will need to be the next leader of the State of Israel. I’m not afraid of anything, but at the moment, this is not the issue. There aren’t elections. The issue at the moment is to defeat the coronavirus, to unite the people, and to boost the economy.

“I want to tell the public, people are despairing, I say here to the public: Do not despair. Another way is possible.”

He advocated a fresh lockdown around the holidays, and a more controlled reopening, to contain the virus.

“People despaired. They were in their house for a month, left their house, and saw it taking off again. Trust needs to be restored,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then Defense Minister and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a meeting with the heads of right-wing parties in the Knesset on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As defense minister in the last government, Bennett urged the prime minister to give more responsibility to the army for grappling with COVID-19 and drew up a strategic plan which he claims Netanyahu ignored because of the political rivalry between them, and which he says is near-identical to the one now belatedly being followed by Israel’s recently appointed coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu.

Yamina has been surging in recent polls — as high as 19 seats — over Bennett’s criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus, while Likud shows a slide to 30-33 seats. In the March election, Yamina won only six seats.

A poll earlier this month found that Netanyahu was considered by 37% of respondents as best suited to serve as prime minister, followed by 19% for Bennett, 15% for Lapid and 10% for Gantz.

The governing coalition narrowly avoided a collapse on Monday night when it passed legislation, a couple of hours before a midnight deadline, that gives the government until December 23 to pass a state budget.

The Monday night breakthrough happened after Netanyahu and Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, both said their parties would vote in favor of the delay, after a day of their respective parties hurling accusations at each other.

Though the crisis was ostensibly about the state budget, the true bones of contention appeared to be the issue of senior law-enforcement appointments and the balance of power in the unity coalition.

Though elections were averted this week, many analysts believe the government is still on life support and will not pass a budget or survive beyond the next deadline.

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