Ex-Bennett aide: He gave in to political ‘blackmail,’ failed at management

Outgoing PM rejects claim by Shimrit Meir, his foreign policy adviser until last month, that he considered relying on the Joint List to save coalition

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks with his foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks with his foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shimrit Meir, a top diplomatic adviser to outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who resigned from her position last month, said in an interview released Thursday that she quit because Bennett was “giving in” to threats by various members of his coalition.

In an interview with the Ynet news site published on Bennett’s final day in office, Meir alleged that the right-wing premier was willing to rely on the opposition’s Joint List party, in a “desperate” attempt to save his coalition.

“I answered that it would be a very grave mistake,” Meir said of Bennett considering joining with the coalition of Arab parties. “I thought he was mowing down the government’s legitimacy out of his will to cling on [to the leadership].”

In response to the interview, Bennett insisted that “at no stage was relying on the Joint List considered or practiced.” The outgoing prime minister declined to hit back at Meir for the scathing interview, merely stating that she “did her job exceptionally well.”

Meir suggested that the coalition failed miserably in controlling its own members: “The political management was a failure from day one. Had my area of responsibility been managed like the political one, the Syrians would have already been on the fences [of the Israel border].”

She recounted that the moment where “everything started to go totally downhill” was when Yamina MK Idit Silman quit the coalition and other members of Bennett’s party began to “blackmail” the premier.

Shimrit Meir, then editor-in-chief of Al Masdar (The Source), an online Arabic-language newspaper, in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meir still had a few words of praise for the outgoing prime minister, saying that “when he was good, he was the best.” She pointed specifically to the IDF’s laser air defense system unveiled in April after a series of successful tests, and following Bennett’s push to roll out the technology quicker. “He wanted the laser, so he drove everyone crazy with the laser — at night it was the laser, in the morning it was the laser.”

During her time in office, Meir was considered one of Bennett’s closest aides. However, she reportedly repeatedly clashed with his political advisers, who felt that she was trying to extend her influence into their spheres, including advising Bennett on his political strategy.

Her resignation in May was ultimately the first in a series of exits by top aides to Bennett that were seen as marking the beginning of the end of his tenure in office.

In the interview this week, Meir claimed that Bennett’s relationship with Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked — who will become party leader in the upcoming elections — has been rocky for several years. She alleged that Shaked has no political base — “on the contrary, she scares away [voters]” — and that “for several months she threatened Bennett with an unloaded gun.”

Bennett’s former adviser also suggested that the government “gave in to blackmail” by the Islamist Ra’am party when the faction froze its coalition membership over tensions atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

“Everyone was waiting for the Shura Council that night,” she said. “Yair Lapid sent [his chief-of-staff] Naama Schultz to Kafr Qassim with an open check. I told Bennett, you must stop this. This government will be painted with the colors of surrender to the Arabs. Blackmail and surrender — and we were still in the midst of a terror wave.”

Eventually, Meir said, she decided to resign because “I understood he wasn’t listening [to me]. He doesn’t want to hear. And I understood there was no method to the madness.”

Responding to criticism that she had pulled Bennett closer to the political center and was behind Bennett referring to the “West Bank” in a speech instead of using the phrase Judea and Samaria that is preferred by the right wing, Meir said such a claim is “nonsense.”

“[Former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said ‘West Bank’ a million times,” she said. “I don’t remember who wrote it, but I approved it, absentmindedly.”

In response, the Likud party seized on Meir’s comments about Lapid sending his aide “to Kafr Qassim with an open check.”

“Lapid will establish a government with terror supporters,” the party claimed in a statement. “We will establish a broad national government that will lower prices, reduce taxes and return national pride” — echoing the campaign promises Netanyahu made in his Knesset speech earlier Thursday.

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