The current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to evade its responsibility for protecting Israelis from terrorism and is using a hot-button topic to distract from the issue, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said Thursday.
Speaking to Army Radio, the hawkish Liberman said that the government was focusing on legislation to shut businesses operating on Shabbat, which is being pushed by Likud MK Miki Zohar, in order to divert the public’s scrutiny of Netanyahu’s security policies.
“The government’s job is, first of all, to provide security to its citizens,” said Liberman, a former foreign minister. “This government is doing everything it can so as not to fight terrorism and to get out of doing so. I can’t believe that they told us that more people die in traffic accidents than in terrorist acts.”
Liberman was referring to statements on Monday by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, reportedly taken from a fact sheet distributed by the Prime Minister’s Office, attempting to calm the public by saying that the number of deaths from traffic accidents was much higher than the number of fatalities in terrorist attacks.
A vote on the so-called Shabbat Law was postponed by Netanyahu on Wednesday, after some coalition members said they would oppose the bill should it be brought up for a vote. The law would mandate that all businesses in Israel be closed on Shabbat, with substantial fines for those who violate the law.
Liberman, a former partner to Netanyahu who sat in two of the prime minister’s governments, refused to join the coalition after last March’s elections, citing his objections to deals signed with other partners.
Liberman’s recent wave of criticism began on December 31, 2015, when he posted a message on the Yisrael Beytenu party website — in response to reported calls by Hamas to renew suicide bombings — saying Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s policies were giving strength to terrorist groups.
The fact that Hamas “dares to announce [its intention to renew suicide bombings] publicly is the direct result of the policy of Netanyahu and Ya’alon, a failing policy… that brought the current terror wave that has been going on for a few months now,” Liberman wrote. “If there is no drastic change in policy, Hamas’s warnings may, heaven forbid, come to reality.”
Liberman has been known for his attacks on Israel’s Arab community, including statements calling for the stripping of citizenship of those who “rave and incite against the state.”
In a speech at the site of last Friday’s shooting attack in Tel Aviv the prime minister did seem to adopt a hint of Liberman’s often-harsh rhetoric on Arab citizens of Israel, vowing to “dramatically increase” police enforcement in Arab towns and root out “pockets of lawlessness” in the Arab population.
“I will not accept two nations within Israel: a lawful nation for all its citizens and a (second) nation-within-a-nation for some of its citizens, in pockets of lawlessness,” Netanyahu said.
“Those times are over,” he claimed. “Whoever wants to be Israeli must be fully Israeli — both in rights and in obligations. And the first and paramount obligation is to abide by the laws of the state.”
Last Wednesday, the government unanimously approved a NIS 15-billion ($3.84-billion) five-year plan to develop Israeli Arab and other minority communities, in an effort to bring them up to par with the general population.
The Yisrael Beytenu head also criticized this deal, saying the fact that Netanyahu sat with Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh to draft the plan showed that the prime minister was trying to “please the extremists” in the Arab sector.
“This is what I mean when I say he is weak on terror and trying to ‘buy’ the quiet,” Liberman said.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.