Gantz: Right-wing threats to Yamina show lesson of Rabin’s killing not learned

Blue and White party head urges leaders to speak out against incitement from Netanyahu allies toward Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who have had security bolstered

Blue and White party leader Defense Benny Gantz speaks at a ceremony in memory of Israeli soldiers who were killed in the First Lebanon War- Operation Peace for Galilee at the National Hall of Remembrance at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on May 26, 2021. (Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Defense Benny Gantz speaks at a ceremony in memory of Israeli soldiers who were killed in the First Lebanon War- Operation Peace for Galilee at the National Hall of Remembrance at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on May 26, 2021. (Flash90)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz lamented Monday that threats against Yamina party leaders over their intention to join forces with him and others in forming a government have shown that the country has not learned the lessons from the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing extremist.

The emerging coalition with Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid has angered right-wing activists as it could put an end to 12 consecutive years of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule.

Speaking Monday at the start of the annual Israel Bar Association conference in the southern port city of Eilat, Gantz called on public leaders to speak out against the tide of animosity from right-wing activists against Yamina.

His remarks came after the Knesset Guard reportedly increased security around Yamina No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked due to threats she has received. Security around Yamina leader Naftali Bennett was already increased earlier this month in response to threats against his life, the party said at the time.

“That fact that elected officials are being threatened over taking part in democratic processes raises a great concern that we have not learned the lesson, neither from the Jewish history of baseless hatred nor from the murder of Rabin,” Gantz said, apparently referring to the infighting between Jewish groups that, according to tradition, led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.

“This is the time for all public leaders to come out in an unequivocal call against every threat, whatever the democratic decisions are,” Gantz said, according to Hebrew media reports of his remarks. “We all need to respect them and avoid sparking a dispute — let alone, God forbid, a civil war.”

Naftali Bennett (left) and Ayelet Shaked at a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gantz said he hoped that a coalition would be agreed on by the end of the day.

The emerging government, though containing many parties of different political ideologies, will have “a basic common denominator of a desire for unity and social responsibility,” he said.

Negotiations to finalize the coalition agreements went on till early in the morning.

Right-wing activists have been lobbying Bennett and Shaked not to join Lapid in a coalition that would oust Netanyahu. On Sunday, Bennett announced that he would do just that. In a bitter counter-address minutes later, Netanyahu said Bennett was cheating his voters, and called the planned Bennett-Lapid coalition “a left-wing government” that constituted “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state.”

Later that evening, 300 people gathered outside Shaked’s home in Tel Aviv to protest against the move, with some holding signs reading “Leftist traitors.” There were also posters showing portraits of Bennett and Shaked with the slogan “Lapid’s collaborators.”

There was also a counter-demonstration of about 100 people in support of the emerging coalition government.

There have been harsher tones taken in some of the thousands of text messages that Bennett and Shaked have received in recent days urging them to not join Lapid, Channel 12 news reported.

The lawmakers received messages warning: “We will turn your lives into hell” for “you and your children,” while others threatened: “You will know no peace” and “We will make your lives unbearable.”

One message to Shaked threatened that there would be demonstrations outside her home like the weekly protests against Netanyahu in Jerusalem “but on steroids,” meaning far more vigorous.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

There was sharp criticism of the Yamina party from Hagai Ben-Artzi, the brother of Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, who called Bennett’s intention to partner with Lapid “treason” and said it met the biblical definition of that crime.

“This is not only a group of cheaters and swindlers from a political point of view, who abandon all their promises, but also a group of traitors to the Jewish people,” Ben-Artzi said in an interview with the Knesset television channel.

Political incitement, and in particular the use of the phrase “traitor,” is a contentious issue in Israel as it was used by right-wing protesters against prime minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was shot dead in 1995 by far-right Jewish extremist Yigal Amir. The incitement against Rabin, which included protesters regularly calling him a traitor, was seen as contributing to the motivation of his killer.

Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the reins to Lapid. Joining the coalition will be a mix of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties that refuse to join a government led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases.

Bennett’s announcement could bring to an end 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu rule. But the prime minister still has a few days to try to thwart a Bennett-Lapid coalition before it can be sworn in. The possibility of lawmakers defecting or absenting themselves from a vote, combined with Israel’s fast-shifting current affairs, means uncertainty will prevail until parliamentary approval is secured.

The nascent Bennett-Lapid coalition apparently has the support of 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset, so even a single defection could deprive it of a majority. And it still needs the confirmed support of the Islamist Ra’am party, which has yet to publicly commit to giving the coalition the backing of its four Knesset members.

Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends at midnight Wednesday. He has so far reached informal coalition agreements with Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Labor, and is hoping to seal deals with Blue and White and New Hope in the next few days, though the coalition would likely only be voted on and sworn in next week. Likud and other parties opposed to the government are planning on using the intervening time to ratchet up pressure on right-wing MKs in a bid to get them to defect and torpedo the coalition.

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