Knesset to meet on setting date for vote on new government, likely June 14

‘Change bloc’ pushing Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to set swearing-in on June 9, but absence of item on legislative agenda indicates Netanyahu seeking more time to torpedo coalition

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin during a special session honoring Jerusalem Day at the Knesset on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin during a special session honoring Jerusalem Day at the Knesset on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin will on Monday bring to the Knesset Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s statement that he can form a government, setting in motion the process of holding a vote of confidence in the new, eight-party coalition that would oust the current transition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The law holds that the vote must come within seven days of the speaker’s announcement and members of the nascent government have been pressuring Levin to call the vote on Wednesday.

However, the Knesset’s published plenum agenda for Wednesday’s legislative session does not include any mention of a swearing-in vote for the new government, making it highly likely that Levin will call the vote for Monday, June 14.

Levin, a Likud MK, was said to have been weighing scheduling the vote to approve the new “change government” on Wednesday if there appeared to be a reasonable shot at preventing the formation of the potential government.

But with the unity government pushing for the early date and apparently having all its members committed to the coalition, that now seemed unlikely.

On Sunday the change bloc’s Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett urged the Knesset speaker to convene the plenum on Wednesday to vote on the new government.

Yamina leader and Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“That’s what’s appropriate,” Bennett said at a press conference Sunday evening. “I know (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is pressing you… to allow more days to search for defectors… It might be in Netanyahu’s interest… [but] it’s not in the interest of the state.

“Yariv, you swore allegiance to the state, and not to a particular person,” he said.

Meanwhile, reports said Netanyahu was continuing to try and undermine the emerging government.

Channel 12 reported Sunday that Netanyahu phoned New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, to again offer him to be prime minister in a rotation agreement.

Sa’ar again refused, sticking to his election campaign promise of refusing to serve with Netanyahu.

Also Sunday, New Hope MK Yoaz Hendel told Channel 13 that the parties involved intend to establish the “change government” even if Netanyahu were to step down.

Several Likud leaders have been urging Netanyahu to step aside for a period amid arguments that the right-wing parties in the “change government” would happily establish a government with Likud if Netanyahu were out of the way,

In Bennett’s speech, he also appealed for calmer discourse and beseeched Netanyahu to “let go” and not leave “scorched earth” behind him.

Bennett’s statement came after the leaders of the eight parties that make up the new prospective government met in Tel Aviv for the first time since last week’s announcement that they had succeeded in forming a coalition.

(L-R) Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas, Labor head Merav Michaeli and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at a meeting of the heads of the would-be-coalition in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2021. (Ra’anan Cohen)

Amid alarmist discourse in some right-wing circles, rising incitement on social media, angry protests outside politicians’ homes, and even allegations of treason against Bennett and his allies, the Yamina party chief said to the cameras that the new government “is not a catastrophe, it’s not a disaster, [it’s] a change of government: a normal and obvious event in any democratic country.”

Taking a shot at Netanyahu, Bennett said, “Look, Israel’s regime is not monarchic. No one has a monopoly over power. Naturally, any regime that atrophies and degenerates after many years is replaced.”

While Bennett stressed that criticism of him and his allies was legitimate, he decried the “violent machine” he said had been activated against members of Yamina and Sa’ar’s New Hope to pressure them to oppose the new coalition through “a funded and directed operation.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to honor medical workers and hospitals for their fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He said he had heard Netanyahu telling supporters: “Don’t be afraid to lay into them.”

“‘Laying into them’ includes following [Yamina MK] Idit Silman with a car for a whole day with loudspeakers blaring, to scare her children on the way to school… to issue curses and threats every which way,” Bennett protested, calling such tactics “worrying.”

He appealed to Netanyahu to “let go. Let the country move forward. People are allowed to vote for a government even if you do not lead it — a government that, by the way, is 10 degrees to the right of the current one.

“Don’t leave scorched earth in your wake. We want to remember the good, the great deal of good you did during your service [as prime minister], and not, God forbid, a negative atmosphere you would leave upon your departure.”

Netanyahu, speaking to the right-wing Channel 20 after Bennett’s comments, called him “a habitual liar.” He said the emergent government was “more dangerous than the [2005 Gaza] Disengagement and Oslo [Accords].”

He accused Bennett of engaging in “a liquidation sale of the country.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that at a family event of Shas party chair Aryeh Deri a week ago, the prime minister, noting that he had once been compared to the biblical Moses, asked: “And how did God take care of Moses’s opposition?”

(L-R) Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett and New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar at a meeting of the heads of the would-be-coalition in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2021. (Ra’anan Cohen)

Netanyahu then reportedly went on to quote from the Book of Numbers, chapter 16: “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households.”

On Sunday, Yamina MKs Silman and Nir Orbach of Yamina were granted extra security protection, after being targeted by activists aiming to pressure them against backing the emerging coalition deal.

At least four of the seven Yamina lawmakers in the Knesset have now been given additional protection amid threats directed at them over the party joining up with MK Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party to form the so-called “change government.”

Bennett and Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked had their security beefed up last week.

Supporters of the potential incoming government have faced intense protests and threats over the past week.

Protestors outside the home of Yamina MK Nir Orbach in Petah Tikva on June 3, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/ FLASH90)

Meanwhile, Orbach, who has been seen as a key swing vote on the coalition, has seen protests outside his home in Petah Tikva.

The lawmaker has drawn attention because he had said that he might resign from the Knesset, rather than back the change government, but his replacement would be a Yamina party member who has already declared full support for the coalition.

Orbach is now widely expected to back the new coalition.

He had been expected to announce his decision Sunday, but did not.

Shin Bet leader Nadav Argaman issued a rare warning Saturday night that rising incitement on the right could lead to political violence.

“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals,” he said.

At the same time, a range of prominent national religious rabbis spoke out against the nascent government and urged their followers to “do everything” to oppose it. Two of the signatories later rejected concerns that the rabbis’ public call could be interpreted as incitement to violence.

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