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Lapid pans ‘hateful’ discourse; Netanyahu suggests MK fabricated assault story

Foreign minister says he got death threat likening him to Hitler; Likud chief asserts coalition whip Silman must give proof she was attacked, or apologize

A composite image of Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid leading their respective Likud and Yesh Atid faction meetings at the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A composite image of Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid leading their respective Likud and Yesh Atid faction meetings at the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

At faction meetings Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned that the violent political discourse in the country could see a politician murdered. Meanwhile opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that coalition whip Idit Silman either provide evidence she was attacked by an opponent of the new government or apologize for making the claim.

Speaking at a Yesh Atid faction meeting, Lapid warned the “hateful” discourse was defining Israeli society as a whole, and said he and his wife had recently received threatening messages.

Lapid said one such message expressed a wish he would die from cancer and likened him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

“’You’re exactly like Hitler. You’ll get a bullet in the head from me or from someone else,’” Lapid quoted the message as saying. He said messages his wife received called for them and their daughter to face divine punishment.

“May God take revenge on you,” one such message allegedly said.

Lapid said: “The danger is not only that more politicians will be murdered here… The great danger is that this is what we’re becoming. This violence seeps into all aspects of our lives. On the roads, in schools. If we don’t stop this now, together, that means this is what we’ve become: A violent, hateful society.

“The political discourse must change. We can fiercely debate, we can disagree, but we can’t stand in the [Knesset] plenum and scream personal and despicable insults and smears. We must stop the hate before the hate stops us.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and MK Idit Silman attend the vote on the state budget at the assembly hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid’s comments came after MK Idit Silman — from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party — told Channel 12 news on Saturday that she had been physically attacked by a man at a gas station last month amid Likud’s scathing, months-long online campaign against Yamina joining the government that ousted Netanyahu.

Some critics have questioned why Silman did not go into detail about the gas station incident and have doubted her account, especially after she refused to elaborate during Sunday morning radio interviews.

Silman later filed a formal notification with the Knesset Guard over the threats made against her on various occasions since September 25 and throughout October, in the build-up to a vote on passing the budget (which was eventually passed last week).

But on Monday, Netanyahu suggested that Silman could have made up the story of the assault in order to tar opponents of the coalition. Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu called on Silman to provide proof of the incident “or apologize to the two million Israeli citizens from the national camp she slandered.”

He also responded to Lapid, railing against “the hypocritical moral preaching about ‘respectful discourse’ that comes from the left,” noting Yamina MK Shirley Pinto’s comment in a Channel 12 interview Sunday that called rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli a “virus in the Knesset.”

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset on June 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“You remember how in the 1930s the Jewish people was called a ‘virus,'” he said. “Just imagine the outrage had a right-wing MK called someone from the left a virus. And Prime Minister Bennett, who is preaching for respectful discourse, doesn’t say a word.

“It’s an unbelievable low point they have reached. But if we’re already talking about MK Chikli in the context of the virus, it’s too bad he’s not also infectious,” Netanyahu quipped.

Chikli, who has jumped ship to support the opposition and was present at Netanyahu’s Monday press conference, was praised by the Likud leader as the “only Yamina member who stayed right-wing.”

Pinto has said her use of the word “virus” was referring to a computer virus, in light of Chikli’s rebellion against his party from within and his ongoing efforts to stymie its agenda.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said during a faction meeting of his New Hope party that the first bill he’ll seek to pass is one limiting Israeli prime ministers to eight years in office.

Sa’ar, a former Likud member who was ostracized by Netanyahu and became a fierce critic, has made it clear that the law wouldn’t apply retroactively and therefore wouldn’t prevent Netanyahu — who has served as premier for a total of some 15 years — from returning to that position.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar leads a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

However, Sa’ar is also seeking to pass a law barring lawmakers accused of serious crimes from becoming prime minister, a law which would prevent Netanyahu — who is standing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust — from regaining power.

Sa’ar said Monday that he would seek to advance the term limit bill as early as next week, and that he would try to win over coalition members who have expressed reservations.

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