Sderot mayor: Government 'granting immunity to terrorists'

Coalition tensions rise as Otzma Yehudit boycotts Knesset over ‘feeble’ Gaza response

Fissures show in Netanyahu’s hardline government, as it faces mounting internal pressure over domestic policies and deepening conflict with Palestinians

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tours Lod, April 17, 2023. (Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tours Lod, April 17, 2023. (Flash90)

Citing their own government’s “feeble” response to the past day’s barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip, members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party announced Wednesday morning that they would boycott Knesset votes taking place throughout the day.

It was the latest in a series of fissures to emerge in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline right-religious government, which has faced mounting internal pressure over its shelved plans to overhaul the judiciary, along with the skyrocketing cost of living, and deepening conflict with the Palestinians.

“In light of the feeble overnight response, the Otzma Yehudit faction has decided not to attend Knesset votes today, and will conduct a special faction meeting in the city of Sderot [near the border with Gaza],” the party said in a brief statement.

The Otzma Yehudit boycott will leave the coalition with 58 votes, still more than the opposition’s 56, meaning that the announcement may have little practical impact.

The move came as the leader of the far-right party, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, came under increased pressure over rising terror attacks and a sharp jump in murders since he came into office in December after running on a platform of keeping citizens safer.

Hours before the Otzma Yehudit announcement, Israel and the Gaza terror groups agreed to a ceasefire after a daylong flare-up in violence sparked by the death of prominent Palestinian Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan while on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison, Al Jazeera and Reuters reported, citing Palestinian sources.

Security forces inspect a damaged car in the southern city of Sderot following rocket fire from Gaza on May 2, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces said Palestinian terrorists launched 104 projectiles from Gaza, including one that hit a construction site in Sderot and wounded three foreign nationals — one moderately and two lightly.

The Iron Dome air defense system intercepted 24 of the projectiles, marking a 90 percent interception rate of rockets heading for populated areas, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said. Another 48 projectiles landed in open areas in southern Israel, 14 fell short in Gaza, 11 landed in the sea, and another seven had unknown impact sites.

The government came under intense pressure throughout Tuesday to respond forcefully to the rocket barrages, with many of those demands coming from within Netanyahu’s coalition.

Flame and smoke are seen during an Israeli air strike in response to rocket fire, Gaza City, May 3, 2023 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The right-wing bloc sailed to power four months ago, buoyed by promises to restore security, but its approval ratings have since plunged amid the fallout from its contentious judicial overhaul plans and an unrelenting wave of Palestinian terror attacks.

Eventually responding to the rocket attacks from Gaza, the IDF struck 16 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad and Hamas terror groups across the Strip overnight, according to Hagari. These included a Hamas training camp; another base that housed a weapons production site, a concrete production plant, and a training site; a site belonging to the Hamas naval commandos; and a tunnel used by Hamas in southern Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said a 58-year-old man was killed, and five other civilians were wounded as a result of one of the Israeli strikes near Gaza City.

The response did not satisfy the hawks in Netanyahu’s government.

National Missions Minister Orit Strock, a member of the far-right Religious Zionism party, on Wednesday morning accused her coalition partners of “carrying on the policies of the previous government.”

Gaza, she told Kan public radio, “is not paying a price for Hamas’s terrorism… The IDF’s overnight response cannot be characterized as exacting a price. We should have awoken [this morning to scenes] of several high rises destroyed in Gaza and several arch-terrorists joining their comrade [Adnan] who died in prison.”

MK Orit Strock speaks during a visit of Religious Zionism party members in Netiv Haavot neighborhood in Gush Etzion, West Bank, on October 26, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Likud MK Danny Danon echoed Strock, telling Kan that by not responding harshly, Israel was “inviting the next round” of violence.

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett noted that more rockets had been fired at Israel over Tuesday than the number launched at the Jewish state during his year-long tenure as premier, which was relentlessly slammed as weak by Netanyahu’s bloc.

“The Netanyahu government ‘contained’ rockets from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, so it’s no wonder that the enemy continues to fire,” he tweeted.

Joining Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners in their protests was Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, who told Radio 103FM, “I am in a state of embarrassment and do not understand my government, which is adopting a policy of granting immunity to terrorists and burying its head in the sand, Netanyahu is making a serious mistake.”

Alon Davidi, mayor of the southern city of Sderot, attends a press conference in Jerusalem, March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit’s decision to boycott Wednesday’s Knesset votes came with the government already facing rising internal conflict over its domestic policies.

On Tuesday, ultra-Orthodox coalition politicians escalated their rhetoric against Netanyahu, with one minister saying the prime minister should leave office if he can’t keep his promises to pass a law exempting the Haredi community from military conscription, and a lawmaker warning that his faction could tank the state budget, a move that would automatically topple the coalition.

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