Breaking ranks, Knesset speaker says Likud in ‘serious trouble’ under Netanyahu

Yuli Edelstein recorded warning that his party ‘will find [itself] in the opposition,’ saying he would be happy to see half his fellow MKs go

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on October 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on October 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, a senior member of the Likud party, was recorded harshly criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attacks on the media and on his political opponents, and warning that the ruling party could suffer a major setback in the next election.

In a recording of a private meeting aired by the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday, Edelstein can be heard saying, “We will find ourselves in the opposition if things continue like this.”

“Likud is in a very serious problem,” he said, adding that he “would be happy if about half of the MKs just went home.”

The report did not indicate when the recordings were made or who attended the meeting with Edelstein. His was a rare attack on Netanyahu from among the ranks of senior Likud members, who have by and large defended the prime minister vociferously amid the criminal investigations against him and his increasingly acerbic attacks on the media.

“This kind of behavior I admit is a bit problematic… when Netanyahu speaks as prime minister nobody bothers him, but the second he starts calling ‘sourpuss,’ that’s where the disaster starts,” Edelstein said, referring to a speech last October in which Netanyahu took the media and the political left to task.

“It’s too bad things are this way,” he said. “I would be happy to see half of the party’s members go home. Likud is in a very serious problem. If we continue like this, we will find ourselves in the opposition.”

Israelis take part in a demonstration titled the “March of Shame”, as they protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

In his fiery October speech to the Knesset, the prime minister accused the media and the left of trying to oust him from office over the corruption accusations against him, and of systematically downplaying the country’s successes.

“The industry of despair has a new branch — the branch of the sourpusses [literally ‘pickles’],” said Netanyahu. This camp, he claimed, was only satisfied “when settlements are being evacuated” and ignored Israel’s numerous economic, diplomatic, and technological gains.

He also ripped into the weekly anti-corruption protesters who have been gathering in downtown central Tel Aviv in recent months and outside of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home to protest the slow rate of the police investigations into him.

Netanyahu is being investigated in two cases. Case 1000 relates to allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has increasingly lashed out at the media amid developments in the cases, accusing the press of playing up the investigations against him in order to end his premiership.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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