Elkin accuses ex-ally Netanyahu of paying ‘thugs’ to protest outside his home

Opposition’s Gafni blames PM Bennett for resurgence of COVID, as new government defeats first no-confidence motions 59-50

New Hope MK Zeev Elkin (L) seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
New Hope MK Zeev Elkin (L) seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The first motions of no confidence in the newly installed government were defeated in the Knesset on Monday, with 59 lawmakers opposed and 50 in favor, during a raucous plenary session.

The motions were spearheaded by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which was ousted from power last week, after 12 years, with the establishment of the new government of right-wing, centrist, left-wing, and Islamist parties led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The votes on Monday were preceded by a heated debate that saw New Hope coalition MK Ze’ev Elkin — formerly Netanyahu’s confidant and a Likud cabinet minister — go head-to-head with his former party leader, accusing him of sending “thugs” to protest outside his home and frighten his children.

“When you create a discourse of hatred and division, it’s legitimate, but when others think differently than you and criticize you — that’s illegitimate,” said Elkin, the housing minister, in comments directed at opposition leader Netanyahu. “When there are demonstrations outside your official residence, that’s illegitimate. But when you send thugs — using party funds — to my home and the homes of others here, to wake up a 5-year-old girl at 11 p.m. to frighten her, that’s legitimate.”

Elkin also defended the new government sworn in last week.

“When you, Netanyahu, offer Bennett to become prime minister in a rotation with you, with six Knesset seats, that’s legitimate. But now, when you’re not in this government — it’s illegitimate,” he continued.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Elkin, loudly heckled by opposition lawmakers, attempted to yell over them, as Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy appeared to lose control of the room temporarily.

“Don’t speak to us about legitimacy,” Elkin shouted. “If it doesn’t serve you, it’s not legitimate. If you are on the outside, it’s not legitimate.”

Elkin left Likud to join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party ahead of the March 2021 elections, blasting Netanyahu for his conduct and accusing him of putting his personal considerations above the country’s best interests. Likud supporters have been regularly gathering outside the Elkins’s residence to demonstrate. Last month, the Jerusalem District Court issued a temporary restraining order against a supporter of Netanyahu who verbally harassed Maria Elkin and her children.

Netanyahu later on Monday addressed the Knesset plenum to counter Elkin’s remarks. He accused his former ally of “skipping with amazing ease from party to party to party,” in reference to Elkin’s move from the centrist Kadima to Likud to New Hope.

“This government is simply dangerous, we will topple it much faster than you think,” added Netanyahu.

The session also saw United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni call Bennett a “piece of nothing” and blame him for the resurgence of COVID-19 in the country.

“He became prime minister, and before five days have passed, the coronavirus is back,” said Gafni, mocking the premier for writing a book about the handling of the pandemic when he was in the opposition.

Earlier Monday, Sa’ar, the justice minister, used his opening statement at his New Hope party’s faction meeting to address controversy surrounding a bill that would extend the ban on Palestinian family reunification.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (2L), Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (2R), and Merav Michaeli (3R), in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

While Likud lawmakers in principle support renewing the legislation that bars granting citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israelis, many have indicated that they will vote against it, just to undermine the new government and attempt to divide it. A vote on the bill was postponed on Sunday, with the government apparently unable to muster a majority to pass the measure, even though most MKs back the legislation in principle.

“Likud is acting in a clear manner against its own principles,” Sa’ar said. “This is political schizophrenia. The opposition — apparently to try to embarrass the coalition, although I believe they’re only embarrassing themselves — is prepared to harm the good of the country as it itself defines it.”

The new government is internally divided over the issue, with Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej of Meretz, fellow party member Mossi Raz, Labor’s Ibtisam Mara’ana, and the Arab Ra’am party opposing the measure as it currently stands, and calling for changes to be made.

For the new government, which has a razor-thin majority over the opposition in the Knesset, opposition by even a single MK from the coalition could be enough to stop the bill.

Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, reported Sunday that Netanyahu has instructed Likud to vote against the bill.

Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz publicly urged Netanyahu to back the extension of the law. Gantz said the opposition’s plans to torpedo the extension will harm Israeli security.

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