Liberman: Netanyahu inciting ‘civil war’ to save himself

Yisrael Beytenu chief lambastes premier over speech he made before the start of his trial, says PM has ‘no limits’; nevertheless hopes he’s found innocent, for country’s sake

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a Passover event at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Avigdor Liberman speaks at a Passover event at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to start a “civil war” in order to save himself from corruption charges, warning that the premier has “no limits” in his attempts to escape conviction.

“To get rid of personal troubles and to distract from problems he is responsible for, such as high unemployment and the like, he is inciting the public against itself,” Liberman told Kan radio in an interview.

“What is jarring is that instead of focusing on his trials, Netanyahu is stirring up tensions between the parts of the people,” he added, slamming what he called a “false narrative” presented by the prime minister of a left-wing conspiracy to bring him down.

Flanked by ministers and lawmakers from his Likud party, Netanyahu had delivered lengthy televised remarks before the start of a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court Sunday, ripping into police and prosecutors as he became the first Israeli premier to stand trial on criminal charges while in office. He also declared that all his right-wing supporters were on trial along with him.

“Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalists… to fabricate baseless cases against me,” the prime minister charged. “The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud lawmakers, gives a televised statement before the start of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I’m not a poodle… and therefore they need to remove me by any means,” said Netanyahu, who faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The premier claimed “the band of anyone-but-Bibi” sought to interfere in two of the three elections over the past year in a bid to hurt Likud at the polls. He pointed to the police recommendation that he be charged ahead of the April 2019 elections and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict him before the latest elections in March.

“They did everything so I wouldn’t stand here today as prime minister,” Netanyahu said.

Liberman lambasted the speech as “pure incitement,” warning of dire consequences to stirring up tensions.

“He has no limits. Netanyahu is ready to drag the people of Israel into civil war to escape personal distress,” the former ally of the prime minister charged.

Once a suspect himself in a series of corruption cases, Liberman said the conviction of a sitting prime minister would cause deep damage to Israel.

“I wish for Netanyahu to be found innocent in his trial, and not because I have sympathy for him, but because the prime minister going prison hurts Israel, its image, its status. It’s a stain on all the people of Israel,” he said.

Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid gives a statement to the press on April 21, 2020. (Elad Guttman/Yesh Atid-Telem)

Liberman’s comments come a day after opposition leader Yair Lapid issued a similar warning that Netanyahu was leading Israel to “civil conflict.”

“Israel changed yesterday. It won’t be the same. A serving prime minister was put on trial. His trial didn’t start with a presentation of the evidence, it started with wild incitement against the rule of law, against the courts… He knows it will end in violence but he doesn’t care,” Lapid told his Yesh Atid-Telem faction at the Knesset on Monday.

“There was a coup attempt yesterday and it was led by Netanyahu. He tried to attack the police, the prosecution, the courts, the media. He tried to threaten his judges,” the opposition leader charged.

“The moment he drags his ministers to the court with him, incites his followers, tries to lead us toward a civil conflict, then he can’t be allowed to remain in office,” Lapid said.

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