Bennett says 'history won't forget' Netanyahu's claims

‘Despicable lie’: Bennett slams PM for ‘false propaganda’ on Arab community budget

Ex-premier says government approved 5-year spending plan after Netanyahu, as opposition leader, had falsely claimed money was for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas

Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former premier Naftali Bennett on Sunday tore into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the current premier was advancing the same multi-year spending plan for the Arab community that he had previously falsely claimed was a payout to the Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

During Bennett’s year in power, Netanyahu and members of his right-religious bloc frequently assailed his government for its decision to include the Islamist Ra’am party, which was the first Arab Israeli faction to join a ruling coalition in decades. As part of their coalition deal, the sides agreed to advance a five-year spending plan allocating over NIS 32 billion ($8.7 billion) for Arab communities for education, health, fighting crime and more in an attempt to overcome decades of state neglect.

In a statement on Sunday, Bennett claimed Netanyahu’s government included the same measure in the 2023-2024 state budget approved by the cabinet on Friday, few details of which have been released.

“For a year Benjamin Netanyahu led a propaganda campaign, the main point of which was ‘Bennett is transferring NIS 53 billion to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, therefore Jews are being murdered in the street. The blood of those murdered is on his hands,'” the ex-prime minister said, referring to the sum touted in the coalition deal with Ra’am. “On Friday Netanyahu acknowledged this terrible lie by approving the exact same plan as my government.”

Bennett denounced Netanyahu as “the head of the machine that spread this false propaganda.”

“After him, the mouthpieces, MKs, hundreds of thousands of bots, the thugs who cursed outside [Idit] Silman’s house, the tents across from [Nir] Orbach’s home — all of them echoed this lie,” Bennett said, referring to a pair of lawmakers whose defection from his Yamina party precipitated his government’s collapse.

Israeli police officers stand guard as right-wing protesters chant slogans and hold signs showing Naftali Bennett and other members of the Yamina party with Arab politicians Ahmad Tibi, right, and Mansour Abbas, left, during a demonstration in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, June 2, 2021. The Hebrew sign reads, ‘Don’t form a left-wing government with supporters of terror.’ (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

He argued that Netanyahu “succeeded big time” as millions of Israelis were convinced that the government sent billions of shekels to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, contributing to a wave of deadly terror attacks that began last March.

“This terrible lie was made knowingly, with premeditation and out of complete cynicism, with no red lines, for political reasons,” Bennett said.

One of the chief accusations by Netanyahu’s allies against Ra’am, which is the political branch of a local Islamist movement inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, was that its members are “terror supporters” despite the party’s leader Mansour Abbas denouncing terrorism on multiple occasions. Abbas has also said Israel is and will remain a Jewish state.

Bennett added that “generally I’m a forward-looking person,” but said he felt compelled to address Netanyahu’s claim “for the sake of historical truth.”

“I have nothing to say but shame on you, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. [Bezalel] Smotrich. You purposely poisoned the minds of millions of Israelis. History won’t forget your despicable lie,” Bennett said, referring to the far-right finance minister. Both Netanyahu and Smotrich were former political allies of Bennett.

In this handout photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrive for a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Responding to Bennett, Netanyahu’s Likud party doubled down.

“Unlike Bennett, we didn’t approve NIS 50 billion for the Muslim Brotherhood without any oversight of the money that flowed to terror-supporting foundations,” a Likud statement said.

The party repeated its denunciation of Bennett for forming a government with Netanyahu’s rivals in June 2021 after the Likud chief and his partners failed to secure a parliamentary majority in the fourth national elections in under two years, dubbing this “the greatest fraud in the history of the country.”

It also repeated the claim that the state funded NIS 50 million in renovations to Bennett’s home in Ra’anana, referring to work to convert the house into an official residence while the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem was undergoing refurbishment, which is still ongoing. Last week, the Knesset Finance Committee approved Netanyahu’s request to have his apartment on Jerusalem’s Gaza Street recognized as an official residence, and to have taxpayers pick up the tab for the housing costs both there and at another of his homes, as well as other expenses such as clothing and travel abroad for Netanyahu’s wife Sara.

Sunday’s statement came after Bennett filed several defamation lawsuits in recent months against critics who made false claims about him and his family, such as that his parents were not Jewish, or that he used public funds to refurbish his private home.

Bennett did not run in the November 1 elections, which saw Netanyahu return to power, but has suggested he will eventually return to politics.

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