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Lapid slams Netanyahu over Iran deal criticism, English-language attack ad

Foreign minister says opposition leader campaigning ‘against Israeli democracy,’ undermining government efforts regarding newly resumed Iran nuclear talks

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)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid lashed out Monday against opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, condemning the former prime minister’s behavior just as talks over the Iran nuclear deal have restarted.

At a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Lapid criticized Netanyahu’s comments about the coalition regarding the Iran nuclear deal, as well as an English-language attack ad that Netanyahu released on Facebook last week.

“In the previous round of the struggle against the Iranian nuclear program, I was the chairman of the opposition,” Lapid said, referring to the lead-up to the signing of the original deal in 2015. “I had a bitter rivalry with the government, but on the Iranian issue, I fully cooperated with it. There are moments when national security is above all.”

“The current chairman of the opposition, on the other hand, is currently campaigning in English against the State of Israel, against Israeli democracy,” Lapid charged.

On December 19, Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook entitled “Israeli democracy is under threat,” in which he claimed that the coalition was seeking to “extinguish three basic freedoms” with three respective pieces of legislation — a bill barring an indicted MK from forming a government; the “Facebook bill,” which aims to clamp down on incitement disseminated on social media; and a bill aimed at fighting crime in Arab communities by allowing police to search homes without a warrant.

The video was immediately criticized by members of the coalition, who accused Netanyahu of hypocrisy.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he would “not accept lectures [from someone] whose own actions have been anti-democratic.

“Unfortunately, the video that was published and that has since gone viral does not represent the reality of the legislation and runs the risk of being used as a tool by our enemies to cause significant damage to the State of Israel,” he added.

Netanyahu has been very critical of the coalition over the Iran issue. Earlier this month, he claimed that Iran and the international community were not taking the “weak” Israeli government seriously, and were “ignoring” Jerusalem as it lobbies against a revival of the multilateral nuclear deal.

“Iran sees the weakness of the government, and so does the international community that wants to return to the dangerous nuclear agreement, so they are ignoring the government,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite Netanyahu’s efforts, the politically diverse coalition has remained intact six months after it was sworn in.

Netanyahu’s own party has been troubled by rivaling factions. On Sunday, he argued that the New Likudniks wing should be expelled in its entirety from the party, saying it was a “Trojan horse” that posed a danger to the entire State of Israel.

This political gamesmanship comes as talks to revive the Iran nuclear began anew on Monday.

The resumption of talks came as tensions escalated between Iran and Israel. On Friday, Iran fired multiple ballistic missiles at the close of five days of military drills, which generals said were a warning to Israel. The drills included a mock strike on an Israeli nuclear facility.

Israel has been uneasy with the resumption of talks, with Lapid saying in an interview published Thursday that Israel would prefer that the US and other powers walk away from nuclear talks rather than pursue a “bad deal.”

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