'Bad joke': Liberman derides coalition response to violence

Far-right ministers bash allies, opposition as attacks pile pressure on government

Ben Gvir and Smotrich complain that government policy too soft on terrorism, lash out at their predecessors, but hawkish police minister says he won’t bring down coalition

Security forces at the scene of a deadly terror attack in the Jordan Valley on April 7, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Security forces at the scene of a deadly terror attack in the Jordan Valley on April 7, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Far-right members of Israel’s ruling coalition urged their own government to take harsher action against Palestinian terror following a deadly attack Friday morning in which two sisters were killed, while attempting to defend themselves to constituents frustrated by the country’s deteriorating security situation by placing blame on the previous coalition.

Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, both senior ministers and members of the key decision-making security cabinet, criticized coalition policy, including decisions they had formally backed a night earlier, with Smotrich saying that “it can’t continue like this.”

Ben Gvir, the national security minister, said he was frustrated by “certain decisions” taken by the government, but that resigning and bringing it down was “not an option.”

“With all its shortcomings, it is one thousand times better and more responsible than the previous government,” Ben Gvir said.

“I do not determine security policy by myself,” the Otzma Yehudit party leader added in a lengthy statement that he posted on social media. “There is no doubt that I have a certain influence, but it’s certainly not enough, and I often find myself frustrated by certain decisions.”

The security cabinet, including Ben Gvir and Smotrich, voted unanimously Thursday night to approve airstrikes in Gaza and Lebanon in response to Thursday’s rocket fire, and to take further unspecified actions to confront the multifront escalation of violence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrive at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Smotrich indicated in a message to supporters that his patience with the coalition’s handling of Palestinian terror was running thin, seemingly seeking to convince followers that he should not be held responsible for his coalition’s shortcomings.

“The fact that checkpoints around [the West Bank city of] Nablus are open is an intolerable crime,” he said, apparently referring to the area from which Friday’s terrorist may have set out to carry out the deadly attack. “We’ve been speaking about this for weeks. I try very hard to be loyal in outward appearances and not attack the government I am a member of, but it can’t continue like this,” he wrote.

The head of the Religious Zionism party also said the IDF was “held hostage” by operational doctrines dating back to the defunct Oslo peace process, claiming Israel was not free of complicity in the slaying of its citizens.

Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock on Channel 12 news. (Video screenshot)

Orit Stock, a member of Smotrich’s party and the minister of national missions, called on the government to restore roadblocks in the West Bank and have the IDF tackle “the nests of terrorism more effectively, and not with tweezers.”

She also called for targeted strikes against Hamas leaders.

Likud MK Avichay Buaron earlier said the government should “serious consider” immediately annexing the Jordan Valley.

Elisha Yered, the spokesperson for Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, said he was quitting due to what he said was the government’s “weak security policy, which is costing us in blood.”

Delivering a joint address from the scene of the attack Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant vowed to hunt down the terrorists behind the Friday morning attack and bring them to justice.

General Yehuda Fox, who commands soldiers in the West Bank, said earlier that troop levels would remain bolstered to protect settlements and roads.

Two sisters aged 16 and 20 from the settlement of Efrat were killed when their car took on gunfire while traveling through the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. Their mother, who was also in the car, was critically injured.

The attack was the latest in the West Bank following a number of shooting in recent days targeting troops, and comes amid the particularly sensitive Ramadan-Passover-Easter period.

Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

In his statement, Ben Gvir also lashed out at the previous Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid coalition, which lost power in the November 1, 2022 election, blaming it for emboldening terrorists in Lebanon by signing a maritime agreement with Lebanon last year, and castigating then-defense minister Benny Gantz for hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his home.

“Even when their hands are not at the wheel, they continue to do harm,” he asserted, claiming that Israel’s foes had been spurred to action by opposition warnings about the country’s deteriorating economy, rifts within the IDF and threats of insubordination by some IDF reservists in protest against the coalition’s judicial overhaul bills. “Their messages have undoubtedly encouraged our enemies to start a military conflict against us,” he claimed.

Warnings of the legislative fight harming the military or other aspects of the nation have not come solely from the opposition. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant two weeks ago gave the starkest public warning about the “tangible threat” to Israel’s security posed by the rifts, and the Bank of Israel issued a detailed forecast earlier this week about the deteriorating economy.

Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid and National Unity head MK Benny Gantz seen at the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid derided Ben Gvir for issuing a statement “hours after the murders of two young sisters” in which he “flees from responsibility and seeks to blame others” for his failures.

Gantz also denounced Ben Gvir, saying “there has never been a cabinet minister who spoke so much about security and understood so little. There has never been a cabinet minister who, when rockets are being fired at our citizens, and our daughters are being killed on the roads, chooses to undermine the cohesion of Israeli society and harm our deterrent capability.”

Fellow opposition party leader Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu, meanwhile, called the military response approved by the government to rocket fire from Gaza and Lebanon “insulting” and a “bad joke.”

“Nobody [behind the rockets from Lebanon] was so much as scratched — not those who gave the order to fire on the state of Israel and not those who carried out the fire. The instruction was not to so much as scratch anyone. And the same applies to Gaza,” he told Channel 12.

“They say, it’s the middle of a festival. Ramadan. Well, we’re in the middle of a festival too,” Liberman said, referring to Passover. “In the middle of [our] holiday they fired on the north, they fired on the south, they murdered sisters. And nothing [in terms of an effective Israeli response].”

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