Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tussled with opposition members and defended his government’s state budget on Monday during a stormy Knesset plenum session called by 40 opposition members.
Several opposition lawmakers were removed from the chamber during the session for heckling and angry outbursts, and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu alleged that Bennett was “not a real prime minister.”
A state budget hasn’t been approved since 2018 amid a protracted political crisis that resulted in four consecutive election cycles.
Netanyahu is widely believed to have intentionally prevented it from passing during the previous, short-lived government, utilizing a loophole in a power-sharing deal with Benny Gantz that otherwise would have resulted in the latter becoming prime minister.
The current government has until November 13 to finalize the budget and have it approved in its second and third readings, or the coalition will automatically dissolve, triggering new elections.
The plenum session was initiated by United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev and titled “The anti-social budget that raises taxes and harms the weak.” The opposition can call such a discussion once a month if 40 lawmakers support the move, and the prime minister and opposition chief are obligated by law to attend the entire session and speak at the end.
At least nine opposition members were booted from the plenum session for heckling Bennett during his speech.
“There is no limit to your lack of self-awareness,” Bennett said in comments directed at the opposition. “This government approved in its first reading the most socially [minded] budget we’ve had in years. This [the approval of a state budget] hasn’t happened since March 2018.”
Bennett continued by touting his government’s purported successes, including in avoiding a COVID-19 lockdown after the previous government imposed three lockdowns.
“With the lockdown policy, which you became addicted to, we only would have increased the national debt by an additional 60 billion [shekels]. We added two billion to healthcare,” he said.
“We are working with determination for the benefit of Israel’s citizens, avoiding ulterior motives. We are working together,” he claimed.
Netanyahu then addressed the plenum and claimed Bennett was not a “real” premier.
“When I was a three-year-old, I arranged the chairs in the living room, added wings, sat down and said: ‘I’m a pilot, I’m flying a plane,’ but I wasn’t a pilot. I was sitting in a chair, pretending I’m a pilot,” Netanyahu said.
“When a three-year-old does that, it’s cute. When Bennett sits on the prime minister’s chair and says: ‘I’m a pilot, I’m flying this plane’ — but in reality, he isn’t making the decisions — he may be prime minister by title but he isn’t a real prime minister. It isn’t cute, it’s pathetic and even dangerous. It’s all pretending,” the opposition chief said.
“Bennett has no vision, policy or achievements. He’s simply not a leader,” Netanyahu said of the right-winger who joined forces with centrist and left-wing parties to unseat him, breaking a two-year political deadlock.
“The public feels like it’s all fake because in this government everyone does whatever they want. Cabinet ministers don’t care what Bennett thinks. We can see it in the new reality show, ‘The Race to the Mukataa,'” he said, referring to recent meetings between ministers and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his Ramallah office.
Netanyahu also mocked Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for implementing many policies he had slammed when he was in the opposition, including not limiting the number of ministers and making heavy use of a law that enables ministers to quit the Knesset and be replaced by a member of their party.
Netanyahu also slammed the government for investing immense sums in developing the Arab Israeli community at the demand of Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas. The latter retorted that Netanyahu himself had negotiated the same step with him.