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'Israel is not a monarchy; no one has monopoly on power'

Bennett to Netanyahu: Let Israel go, don’t leave ‘scorched earth’

In speech, PM-designate decries premier’s tactics in pressuring rightist MKs to oppose change government, urges Knesset speaker to call vote on coalition this week

Yamina leader and Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Yamina leader and Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

At a press conference Sunday evening, the change bloc’s Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett urged the Knesset speaker to convene the plenum on Wednesday to vote on the new government, while appealing for calmer discourse and beseeching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “let go” and not leave “scorched earth” behind him.

Bennett’s statement came after the leaders of the eight parties that make up the new prospective government met in Tel Aviv for the first time since last week’s announcement that they had succeeded in forming a coalition.

Amid alarmist discourse in some right-wing circles, rising incitement on social media, angry protests outside politicians’ homes, and even allegations of treason against Bennett and his allies, the Yamina party chief said to the cameras that the new government “is not a catastrophe, it’s not a disaster, [it’s] a change of government: a normal and obvious event in any democratic country.”

Taking a shot at Netanyahu, Bennett said, “Look, Israel’s regime is not monarchic. No one has a monopoly over power. Naturally, any regime that atrophies and degenerates after many years is replaced.”

While Bennett stressed that criticism of him and his allies was legitimate, he decried the “violent machine” he said had been activated against members of Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope to pressure them to oppose the new coalition through “a funded and directed operation.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to honor medical workers and hospitals for their fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He said he had heard Netanyahu telling supporters: “Don’t be afraid to lay into them.”

“‘Laying into them’ includes following [Yamina MK] Idit Silman with a car for a whole day with loudspeakers blaring, to scare her children on the way to school… to issue curses and threats every which way,” Bennett said, calling such tactics “worrying.”

He appealed to Netanyahu to “let go. Let the country move forward. People are allowed to vote for a government even if you do not lead it — a government that, by the way, is 10 degrees to the right of the current one.

“Don’t leave scorched earth in your wake. We want to remember the good, the great deal of good you did during your service [as prime minister], and not, God forbid, a negative atmosphere you would leave upon your departure.”

Bennett urged Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin not to delay the vote on the new government until next week, but rather schedule it for Wednesday.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/ Pool/Flash90)

“That’s what’s appropriate,” he said. “I know Netanyahu is pressing you… to allow more days to search for defectors… It might be in Netanyahu’s interest… [but] it’s not in the interest of the state.

“Yariv, you swore allegiance to the state, and not to a particular person,” he said.

Bennett accused Netanyahu of telling multiple lies about the prospective government, including that it had capitulated to the Islamist Ra’am party on governance in the Negev, that Netanyahu himself had never intended to rely on Ra’am for his own coalition, and that Bennett would be leading a left-wing government.

(L-R) Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas, Labor head Merav Michaeli and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at a meeting of the heads of the would-be-coalition in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2021. (Ra’anan Cohen)

Bennett asserted that as he himself had been involved in Likud’s efforts to form a government, he knew that Netanyahu had indeed sought to rely on Ra’am. In the Negev, he said, it was Netanyahu who had let armed Bedouin gangs run rampant over the past decade. Meanwhile, he stressed that his coalition was mostly built of the center-right.

Netanyahu, speaking to the right-wing Channel 20 after Bennett’s comments, called him “a habitual liar.” He said the emergent government was “more dangerous than the [2005 Gaza] Disengagement and Oslo [Accords].”

He accused Bennett of engaging in “a liquidation sale of the country.”

He also asserted that “We didn’t want Ra’am with us at any stage,” calling the Arab party “terror supporters.” And he once again claimed Bennett had given Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas concessions “we would never have given.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that at a family event of Shas party chair Aryeh Deri a week ago, the prime minister, noting that he had once been compared to the biblical Moses, asked: “And how did God take care of Moses’s opposition?”

(L-R) Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett and New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar at a meeting of the heads of the would-be-coalition in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2021. (Ra’anan Cohen)

Netanyahu then reportedly went on to quote from the Book of Numbers, chapter 16: “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households.”

On Sunday, Yamina MKs Silman and Nir Orbach of Yamina were granted extra security protection, after being targeted by activists aiming to pressure them against backing the emerging coalition deal.

At least four of the seven Yamina lawmakers in the Knesset have now been given additional protection amid threats directed at them over the party joining up with MK Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party to form the so-called “change government.”

Bennett and Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked had their security beefed up last week.

Supporters of the potential incoming government have faced intense protests and threats over the past week. A Knesset vote on the coalition is slated to be held on June 9 or June 14.

Protestors outside the home of Yamina MK Nir Orbach in Petah Tikva on June 3, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/ FLASH90)

Meanwhile, Orbach, who has been seen as a key swing vote on the coalition, has seen protests outside his home in Petah Tikva.

The lawmaker has drawn attention because he had said that he might resign from the Knesset, rather than back the change government, but his replacement would be a Yamina party member who has already declared full support for the coalition.

Orbach is now widely expected to back the new coalition.

Shin Bet leader Nadav Argaman issued a rare warning Saturday night that rising incitement on the right could lead to political violence.

“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals,” he said.

At the same time, a range of prominent national religious rabbis spoke out against the nascent government, and urged their followers to “do everything” to oppose it. Two of the signatories later denied that the rabbis’ public call could be interpreted as incitement to violence.

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