'We have a country to save... and no intention of giving up'

Excoriating ex-ally Gantz, Lapid vows to battle coalition, predicts its collapse

Opposition leader accuses former colleague of ‘worst act of fraud’ in Israel’s history, propping up corrupt Netanyahu, surrendering to ultra-Orthodox coercion, dooming Jordan peace

Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid gives a statement to the press on April 21, 2020. (Elad Guttman/Yesh Atid-Telem)
Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid gives a statement to the press on April 21, 2020. (Elad Guttman/Yesh Atid-Telem)

Yair Lapid, the former ally of Benny Gantz, on Tuesday accused the Blue and White leader of perpetrating “the worst act of fraud in the history of this country” by joining forces with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A day after Gantz and Netanyahu signed off on an “emergency” coalition deal under which Gantz would take over from Netanyahu as prime minister in 18 months, Lapid excoriated his ex-party leader for partnering with Netanyahu. He claimed that the move meant various ongoing corruption allegations against Netanyahu would now never be probed, that Israeli democracy and the rule of law would be further undermined, that Gantz had capitulated to ultra-Orthodox coercion, and was guilty of numerous other acts of betrayal and hypocrisy.

“There is no connection between this government and the word emergency,” Lapid claimed. “Three weeks of negotiations and they talked about rotation [of the prime ministership], about jobs, about another official residence [for the acting prime minister] at the taxpayers’ expense. Instead of fighting the coronavirus, they’re fighting the Supreme Court. Instead of a compensation mechanism to save small businesses, they’re saving Netanyahu from his legal troubles.”

He vowed to battle the coalition “in the Knesset, in the courts, in the streets and in the squares.” Far from being crushed, he said, “I’ve never been more determined in my life. We have a country to save and we have no intention of giving up.”

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, entered politics early last year and formed an alliance with Yesh Atid party leader Lapid and former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. Their Blue and White party fought three elections on a promise never to sit in government with Netanyahu so long as he is facing corruption allegations, branding him divisive, corrupt and dangerous to Israel.

Having narrowly failed to defeat Netanyahu and his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies, however, Gantz late last moth announced that he was prepared to join a government with the Likud leader after all — to battle the coronavirus and help protect Israeli democracy. He sought to do so alongside Lapid and Ya’alon, but they bitterly opposed the move, and their alliance collapsed, with Lapid now set to lead the Knesset opposition.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020 (courtesy)

Lapid devoted almost all his speech to an assault on Gantz, beginning by apologizing “to all those people who I convinced to vote for Benny Gantz and Blue and White this past year. I didn’t believe that they would steal your vote and give it to Netanyahu, that they would use your vote to form the fifth Netanyahu government.”

“You went to vote for people who promised your children that they would never sit under a prime minister indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” Lapid acknowledged. “The opposite happened. It’s the worst act of fraud in the history of this country. Instead of putting Israel before everything, they put their own jobs before anything. You don’t fight corruption from within. If you’re on the inside, you’re part of the problem. If you’re on the inside, you’re corrupt.”

Lapid asserted that the new government would bury the submarine scandal — concerning alleged illicit purchases by the Defense Ministry in which Ya’alon has repeatedly alleged Netanyahu was involved but the prime minister is not a suspect — and would also ensure that an alleged share profit scandal involving Netanyahu will not be investigated.

He also said that the terms of the coalition deal mean that ultra-Orthodox leaders Yaakov Litzman and Aryeh Deri “will decide who serves in the army and who doesn’t,” with no change in the low proportion of ultra-Orthodox males performing national service.

Gantz and his allies, Lapid stormed, were guilty of a “unconditional surrender” to ultra-Orthodox coercion: “There won’t be civil marriage. There won’t be a surrogacy law. The abuse of the LGBT community will continue. They won’t learn math and English in the ultra-Orthodox education system… and when they won’t have the tools to finance themselves, your children will have to foot the bill.”

Noting that the terms of the coalition deal give Netanyahu veto power in the appointment of top law enforcement figures and judges, Lapid added: “Netanyahu will choose a state attorney, an attorney general and the judges before whom he will stand one day. They demolished the Knesset. Took away all its oversight ability. All the institutions which are meant to protect democracy have been handed over to a man with three criminal indictments.”

Lapid also castigated Gantz for assenting to potential unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank, and charged that this would lead to the collapse of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty and cause “Irreparable damage to our relations with the Democratic Party and the majority of American Jews.”

While Gantz has asserted that he is joining forces with Netanyahu in large part to hep tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, Lapid claimed this was hypocrisy: Gantz and his colleague Gabi Ashkenazi “didn’t even pretend to care about the coronavirus crisis. They ran away from anything that is actually related to the crisis. They didn’t demand the Health Ministry; they didn’t demand the Finance Ministry. They gave up on the Finance Committee, the Economics Committee, and the Corona Committee. They focused on what’s really important to them: Their jobs.”

He assailed the “bloated” intended government — which could grow to 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers: “At the height of the crisis they formed the largest, most wasteful, most bloated government in our country’s history… A bureaucratic monster which will be impossible to manage… It will cost billions. All at your expense. All at your darkest time.”

Cynical about Gantz talk of having made a personal sacrifice to ally with Netanyahu, Lapid sniped: “You’ve been in politics for a year and you’re on the way to the 14th floor of the Defense Ministry. I’ve seen bigger sacrifices.” Gantz is set to serve as defense minister in the new government.

Lapid praised his Yesh Atid colleagues, and those from Ya’alon’s allied Telem faction, who had resisted efforts by Likud to woo them into a coalition: “Not everyone can be bought. I could be foreign minister. ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon could be a senior minister, a member of the Security Cabinet. All my friends in Yesh Atid-Telem, every single one, could be ministers or deputy ministers. They were offered the world just to join.” But, he said, “We didn’t lose our moral compass. We stuck by our principles, we maintained our values.”

He urged the public not to be disillusioned with all politicians: “Don’t put the liars in the same box as those with integrity. Believe those who didn’t cheat you. Believe those who gave up on fancy titles because they have principles.”

And he predicted that the nascent government would not lost long. “When something is built on crooked foundations, it will apart. This government will fall apart, sooner than you think,” Lapid said. “I know what they think about one another. They won’t survive each other. And that’s a good thing. Israel deserves better than a corrupt government which stole their vote.”

In an immediate riposte, Likud said in a statement: “Instead of showing responsibility and entering a national emergency government working to save the lives and livelihoods of Israeli citizens, Yair Lapid preferred to remain in the opposition, to try and drag Israel into a fourth election, and then to preach from the sidelines. His time has passed.”

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