Bennett taunts Netanyahu over Foreign Ministry kerfuffle
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Bennett taunts Netanyahu over Foreign Ministry kerfuffle

Education minister makes peace with workers union after spat over comments doubting their dedication

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem, January 17, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem, January 17, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)

In a face to face exchange during the Sunday cabinet meeting, Education Minister Naftali Bennett criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not being in control of foreign ministry workers amid a tussle that saw ministry staff threaten to boycott Bennett after he seemed to question their dedication to the state.

The tongue-lashing began after Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Minister Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a former deputy foreign minister, told Bennett he was uncomfortable with comments the latter made to Tel Aviv Radio on Friday in which he said he thinks “there’s something wrong with the DNA of the Foreign Ministry.”

At the cabinet table Bennett turned to Netanyahu, who also holds the Foreign Ministry portfolio, and slammed him for not keeping a tight rein on the ministry workers.

“You need to manage them, and not them you,” Bennett said. “You are afraid to manage your workers.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett shake hands in this image released by Netanyahu's Likud party after the two men announced that they had reached an agreement that would see Jewish Home join a Netanyahu-led coalition, Wednesday, May 6, 2015 (photo credit: new media/Likud)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (photo credit: new media/Likud)

“It is a matter of governance,” he added and questioned the prime minister as to what steps he had taken after the Foreign Ministry workers union announced it had instructed all ministry workers to halt all cooperation with Bennett “until he clarifies his remarks and apologizes.”

Netanyahu responded that he had not heard about the workers’ threat, drawing more criticism from Bennett who recalled that the prime minister had over the weekend backed up foreign ministry workers declaring they “faithfully serve the country.”

“It is interesting how quickly you heard about my comments on Radio Tel Aviv,” Bennett said.

On Sunday afternoon, Bennett met with the Chairman of the Foreign Ministry Workers Union Hanan Goder. Bennett told Goder that he did not intend to offend the ministry workers in general. Having smoothed the matter over, the workers union removed its threat to boycott Bennett.

The fracas began when Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party, on Friday attacked former ministry director-general Alon Liel, calling him a “pyromaniac,” after Liel met with the heads of left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence and gave them advice on how to pressure Israel on the global stage.

“I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with the DNA of the Foreign Ministry,” Bennett said during the local radio interview. “If people like Alon Liel stayed so long in the Foreign Ministry then there’s a deep-seated problem there.”

In response, the union of Foreign Ministry employees lashed out at the minister saying Saturday they would boycott Bennett until he apologized for expressing doubt in their commitment to the country.

According to a report in the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth Wednesday, Liel briefed heads of Breaking the Silence on how to deal with criticism.

He explained to them why it was important that they focus their activity outside Israel, told them what lessons they could glean from the international boycott against apartheid South Africa, and described how he had worked to prevent the appointment of settler leader Dani Dayan to the post of ambassador to Brazil.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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