PM: We don't hold a press conf. for every Pfizer phone call

Sourpuss, showman: Bennett bashes Netanyahu over Iran, COVID in Knesset showdown

Prime minister mocks predecessor for showboating accomplishments, while opposition leader accuses new government of undoing his gains

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a plenum session in the Knesset on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a plenum session in the Knesset on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mocked opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu as a ham-fisted showman, and the two traded barbs over their respective governments’ handling of Iranian tensions in dueling speeches to the Knesset plenum on Monday.

“Never in the history of the State of Israel has there been someone who has spoken so much and done so little on Iran,” Bennett said of Netanyahu. The comments came hours after Netanyahu accused Bennett of inadvertently aiding Iran by providing water to Jordan.

“You’ve become the new sourpusses,” said Bennett, a reference to the former prime minister’s infamous 2017 “pickle speech,” attacking the opposition and media as “sourpusses,” using a Hebrew word that also means pickles.

“What you’ve neglected, we are fixing, and you are the new sourpusses,” the prime minister added. “You just grumble, complain, and whine.”

The sharp exchange marked the first intensive back and forth in the Knesset between Netanyahu and his successor, who have years of bad blood between them, and followed the Likud-led incessant heckling and interruption of Bennett’s speech to the Knesset last month introducing his government. In his address Monday, Bennett repeatedly referred to Netanyahu as “Member of Knesset Netanyahu,” emphasizing that he is no longer prime minister, while Netanyahu avoided referring to Bennett as prime minister.

Bennett also mocked Netanyahu for his habit of touting his accomplishments during his 12-year tenure, which came to an end last month, including in the context of the battle against COVID-19.

“If I were Bibi Netanyahu, I would do this. At 8:03 p.m., I would break into the nightly news broadcasts, with a serious face. ‘Citizens of Israel, I am the greatest leader since Herzl, and all my ministers are dwarfed [by me] and I take credit [for their accomplishments]’” Bennett proclaimed from the podium in the Knesset plenum, deepening his voice slightly in an impression of his predecessor.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Knesset plenum session on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

“We sealed the gaps [in the vaccine supply] that you left behind, but we don’t need to call a press conference for every phone call with [Pfizer CEO Albert] Bourla,” Bennett said.

The prime minister also slammed his predecessor’s track record on Gaza.

“After 12 years of neglect in the Gaza Strip, of tens of thousands of rockets, the intractable policy of my predecessor, MK Bibi Netanyahu, was to lower our heads, to absorb, to have restraint,” said Bennett.

In his own speech, Netanyahu hit back at Bennett, blaming him for the recent sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the country.

“One question for Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid’s fraudulent government — how did you manage to spoil our success in the fight against the coronavirus in such a short time?” he asked rhetorically.

“We managed to close the hospital’s COVID departments, you opened them up again. We removed the masks, you brought the masks back,” Netanyahu added. “What are you doing in the face of the new COVID outbreak? The answer is that you’re not doing anything… the only things you have are selfies and tweets.”

Netanyahu claimed that the new government has “abandoned the fight against the nuclear deal with Iran.”

He added that Lapid is “the real prime minister of Israel,” and accused the foreign minister of capitulating to American demands on Iran without a fight.

“The de facto prime minister has relinquished the sovereign principle of defending Israel from an existential threat, and that says it all,” he said.

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