Bennett to get boosted security, reportedly after receiving death threats

Knesset Guard decides on measure, as pressure mounts from right-wing activists on Yamina leader to join a Netanyahu coalition

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset security chief decided Monday that Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett will get boosted protection after recent threats, the party said in a statement.

Yosef Grif, the Knesset sergeant-at-arms, also ordered protection on Bennett’s home in the central city of Ra’anana, the statement said. The new security was to be started on Monday.

Threats to Bennett, including some on his life, have increased recently, as a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition approaches, Hebrew media reported.

There have been protests by right-wing activists outside Bennett’s home urging him to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, with another protest planned for Monday evening.

The additional security will be provided by the Knesset Guard, not the Shin Bet security agency, which provides protection for the prime minister and other state figures.

Though Yamina won just seven seats in the recent March election, Bennett has become a potential kingmaker and even king, having not yet declared who he will back as prime minister. He has repeatedly said that he will support a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu if the prime minister has the votes, but will work toward a unity government without Netanyahu if not.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then Defense Minister Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Monday, Netanyahu publicly offered to let Bennett be prime minister first in a rotation deal between for the premiership. However, Bennett, also responding publicly, pointed out to Netanyahu that, even with Yamina on board, he does not have a majority in the Knesset with just the other coalition partners he has gathered so far.

Netanyahu swiftly responded with an argument he has made previously, saying that if Bennett came aboard, others would follow — making possible a right-wing majority.

However, Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich and New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar both made clear again Monday that they were not about to boost Netanyahu’s chances. Smotrich said he would not compromise on his refusal to serve in a government supported by the Islamist Ra’am party, while Sa’ar said he stood by his pledge not to join a government with Netanyahu — thus effectively leaving the prime minister still with no path to a majority.

Later, at his Yamina party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Bennett denied that he had demanded to be prime minister, and reiterated his pledge to back the premier if he had the votes.

He also blamed Smotrich for preventing the formation of a right-wing government by refusing to enter a government propped up by Ra’am, which has four seats and could give Netanyahu the majority he needs, if Yamina joins him, by providing outside support.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is fighting for his political and legal survival after the March 23 elections, as he struggles to form a government while on trial for corruption charges. His official mandate to assemble a coalition expires on Tuesday night, though he can request a 14-day extension from President Reuven Rivlin.

The president can also select another lawmaker to try, or ask the Knesset to choose an MK to attempt to cobble together a government.

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid party chief, is next in line to get the mandate from Rivlin, though the president can give the job to whomever he thinks has the best chance of success. Bennett, who has said he wants to be prime minister himself, has been holding negotiations with both Netanyahu and Lapid, who heads the bloc of parties seeking to switch the prime minister.

Lapid, whose change bloc is made of left, center, and right-wing parties with significantly different views on key issues, would also face hurdles in forming a government.

If no government is established within the coming few weeks, the country will go to what would be the fifth round of elections in the past two and half years.

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