ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Likud rejects comments: Only Palestinian terrorist to blame

In extraordinary tirade, Netanyahu ally blames terror ramming on Supreme Court chief

Likud MK Tally Gotliv draws rebuke for tweet claiming Esther Hayut’s warning against judicial overhaul helped cause Friday’s deadly attack

Left: Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); Right: Likud MK Tally Gotliv attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left: Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); Right: Likud MK Tally Gotliv attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After a bloody weekend in which three people were killed in a car-ramming attack by a Palestinian in Jerusalem, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party reacted Saturday night by placing the blame for the attack on an unlikely culprit: Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut.

In an extraordinary tweet, firebrand MK Tally Gotliv argued that Hayut’s warning several weeks ago against the government’s plan to radically overhaul the justice system had prompted Israel’s enemies to commit attacks because they “identify a weakness” in Israeli society.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud rejected Gotliv’s narrative, saying the attack was the responsibility of the terrorist.

“I blame the Supreme Court chief justice for the terror attack,” Gotliv wrote. “I blame her for the feeling of chaos in the Israeli nation. I accuse her of destruction and serious harm to democracy and the rule of law.”

According to Gotliv, Hayut “stoked fears of a right-wing government, not [merely] of the [judicial] reform. So what if it causes chaos, so what if our enemies attack us because they identify a weakness among us — everything’s acceptable on the way to toppling a right-wing leadership.”

“And she did it together with Attorney General [Gali Baharav] Miara,” Gotliv wrote. Both Hayut and Baharav-Miara are among the high-profile figures to reportedly have increased security details as a result of threats against them, with the Shin Bet believing that Baharav-Miara in particular is under severe threat.

“With a heavy heart, I blame Hayut. It’s on your conscience, lady, the state the nation is in,” Gotliv wrote. “History will judge your actions.”

On Sunday morning, Gotliv doubled down on her comments in an interview with the Ynet news site.

“I’m not backing down — the [Supreme Court] president incites strife and discord within our people,” Gotliv said. “When the Supreme Court president says that we are harming democracy, she is stirring up chaos. She says that the right-wing is a danger to democracy and is waking our enemies from their slumber.”

Shortly afterwards, Netanyahu’s party rejected Gotliv’s claims.

“The person responsible for the terror attack is a Palestinian terrorist, and nobody else,” the premier’s Likud party said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a government conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of civil society organization Darkenu, Rachel Azaria, said Sunday morning that the Likud MK’s words amounted to incitement, and that she had filed a police complaint.

Gotliv’s comments were met with immediate rebuke from opposition politicians and former MKs.

“The incitement knows no boundaries,” reacted MK Yulia Malinovsky of the opposition Yisrael Beytenu party. “There is truly no red line you won’t cross.”

Former National Unity party MK Eitan Ginzburg said the tweet was “defamatory and inciting,” adding: “A Knesset member blaming the chief justice for a murderous terror attack. Where have we come?”

Former Yamina MK Abir Kara said it was “impertinent not to delete these defamatory words of incitement and apologize immediately.” He said the only culprit for the attack was “a contemptible Palestinian enemy,” calling the coalition “a gang of psychopathic pyromaniacs.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with one of the architects of the government’s judicial overhaul Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Last month, Hayut gave a fiery speech denouncing the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plans and warned the moves would deal a “fatal blow” to the country’s democratic identity.

The government is fast-tracking legislation that would sharply restrict the top court’s capacity to annul laws and government decisions with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Hayut had warned this would fatally undermine judicial independence, give the Knesset a “blank check” to pass any legislation it pleases — even in violation of basic civil rights — and deny the courts the tools needed to serve as a check on executive power.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the time lambasted Hayut’s speech, saying it underlined his arguments that the justice system has been politicized, and chastised her for violating ethics rules for serving judges.

Gotliv isn’t the only coalition member whose reaction to Friday’s car-ramming attack has drawn backlash.

Following the terror attack, which left three dead, far-right National Security Minister Ben Gvir released a statement saying he’d told police to gear up for a major anti-terror crackdown starting Sunday, specifically evoking a famous 2002 military campaign against West Bank terror groups. However, Ben Gvir lacks the authority to approve such an operation on his own and his comments were dismissed by a senior government official.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a deadly terrorist car-ramming attack near the Ramot junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The official told multiple Hebrew media outlets anonymously that “decisions of such a scale are not made in statements by one minister or another on a sidewalk at the scene of an attack.”

The official said Netanyahu would decide on any operation only after conferring with the security establishment and after an orderly discussion in the cabinet, which was expected to convene Sunday.

The official added that there was no intention “to collectively punish the East Jerusalem public” and that any actions would also need to take into account the coming Ramadan holiday and the need to allow freedom of worship in the capital.

On Saturday night, Ben Gvir posted a tweet doubling down on his initial statement, saying he was “determined” to launch the operation.

“To the attention of those giving briefings against me, the police have the authority to demolish illegal buildings, to arrest over 150 targets and raid their homes, to stop the incitement at the mosques, to arrest those with tax debts and more,” he said.

“The cabinet meeting is important and I will make more requests there, but governance is very important and I will ensure it is realized,” Ben Gvir added.

Medics and police officers at the scene of a deadly car-ramming terror attack near Ramot Junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) Insert: Yaakov Yisrael Paley, 6 (left) and Asher Menahem Paley, 8, killed in the attack.

Friday’s attack occurred at a bus stop near the Nebi Samuel site, between Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The terrorist, Hussein Qaraqa, ran his car into a group of people, killing six-year-old Yaakov Yisrael Paley and 20-year-old Alter Shlomo Lederman.

Paley’s older brother, 8-year-old Asher Menahem Paley, was critically hurt in the attack and died Saturday of his wounds. The slain children’s brother, Moshie, 10, was lightly hurt in the attack and released from Hadassah Medical Center over the weekend. The boys’ father, 42, remains hospitalized in moderate condition.

The other casualties included two men in their 20s in serious condition, according to medical officials.

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